To JUUL, or not to JUUL, that is the question

By Alan Kagan

For those unaware, Juul Labs is the name of a popular tobacco company who markets their own brand of e-cigarette, appropriately named JUUL. E-cigarettes, or electronic cigarettes, were originally produced with the intention of helping traditional cigarette smokers quit, or at least use a product with ‘less harmful, cancer-causing’ chemicals in it. However, a study done in 2016 by the American Heart Association Tobacco Regulation and Addiction Center revealed an estimated 1.9 million American adults who currently vape have never smoked tobacco cigarettes previously. Why would such a high number of individuals start vaping e-cigarettes when they never smoked tobacco prior, you ask? Even more alarming, a study by Truth Initiative found that “the younger teens are, the more likely they are to use JUUL. In fact, 15- 17 year-olds have over 16 times greater odds to be current JUUL users compared to those aged 25-34”.

What’s the deal?

Anyone in advertising will tell you, they have three primary objectives: informing, persuading, and reminding. Informing the public on new brands, products, and services; persuading the public that a company’s product is superior over other products; and reminding people about the need for the product, or the benefit it will provide if purchased.

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With that being said, if you look back at JUUL’s ad’s from previous years, you might find some questionable advertising and wonder which population they are REALLY trying to attract. A team of researchers with the Stanford Research Into The Impact Of Tobacco Advertising published their study of Juul’s marketing campaign between the company’s launch in 2015 and Fall of 2018. After looking at a ton of social media posts, emails, and ads, they came to this conclusion: Juul’s advertising “was patently youth-oriented.” Juul’s ad’s were also deceptively similar to older tobacco ads. Around that time, a national survey found that the number of high schoolers who used e-cigarettes in the past month had increased by about 75 percent since 2017. Coincidence? According to Julia Belluz of Vox.com, in December of 2017, Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris USA — one of the world’s largest tobacco companies — purchased a 35% stake in Juul labs for $12.8 billion.

It’s all starting to make sense now!

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Let’s review: a big tobacco company purchases a product meant to curb traditional tobacco smoking, uses the same advertising techniques to attract not only the audience they said they intended to bring in  (ex-smokers), but also a whole new wider array of consumers (non-smokers AND teens), all a while making millions of dollars. Sure, e-cigarettes might cut out tar and a couple other chemicals you’d get from regular cigarettes, but they certainly didn’t skimp on the nicotine content. I mean, how else are they going to get people addicted? Their enticing flavors of mango, passion fruit, bubblegum, cucumber, and mint, can’t do it all alone.

So, what’s the best way to make sure my kids and I don’t fall for the e-cigarette pit trap? Know what to look for and don’t get sucked in. Vaping companies will use celebrity endorsements, “scientific evidence”, and another technique called ‘bandwagon appeal’, classic advertising techniques to lure in new users.

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Aside from companies’ ads, it’s also good to understand the vaping subculture popular on websites, in videos on YouTube, and in local vape shops which seem to be popping up everywhere. This in itself is free advertising for manufacturers like Juul labs. Musicians speak about vaping in articles, Game of Thrones actress Sophie Turner did an interview talking about her favorite vape flavors, and there are even competitions people sign up for that involve the creation of different types of clouds.

In closing, I am not here to tell you to vape or not, but just to make an informed decision. Research when you can. Separate the truth from the manipulation. If you have kids, be sure to talk to them and set some rules for them to abide by. If you don’t, who will?

The Southwest Council, Inc. provides free presentations on various topics, including vaping, for both parents and for high schools. If you are interested in having a presentation, please feel free to reach out at (856) 794-1011 or visit us online at www.southwestcouncil.org .

 

Resources:

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/electronic-cigarettes-good-news-bad-news-2016072510010

https://www.cardiovascularbusiness.com/topics/healthcare-economics/19m-us-e-cig-users-have-never-smoked-cigarettes

https://www.vox.com/2019/1/25/18194953/vape-juul-e-cigarette-marketing

https://truthinitiative.org/news/new-study-reveals-teens-16-times-more-likely-use-juul-older-age-groups