Electronic cigarette company Juul Labs is going dark on social media in effort to avoid further regulations by the Food and Drug Administration.
E-cigarettes are teens’ favorite way to get nicotine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And the number of teenage vapers is rising: at an event hosted by The Washington Post today, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb teased research that’s due to be announced this week that he says shows that high school vaping has increased 75 percent since last year. For middle school students, the increase was 50 percent.
Electronic tobacco companies have been under scrutiny recently, but Juul has been especially under the magnifying lens because of its popularity with teenage consumers.
The US Food and Drug Administration has been cracking down on e-cigarette manufacturers. It’s expressed concerns that Juul was luring in underage customers. In April, the FDA requested information from Juul about its marketing practices and its appeal to teens, and announced an effort to stop youth from using tobacco products, particularly e-cigarettes. In September, the agency told makers of the five top-selling e-cigarette brands — Juul, Vuse, MarkTen, blu e-cigarettes and Logic — that they had to submit plans within 60 days outlining how they’ll tackle youth access and use of their products.
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On Tuesday, Juul published an “action plan” along with a message from its chief executive, Kevin Burns. It read, in part:
We don’t want anyone who doesn’t smoke, or already use nicotine, to use JUUL products. We certainly don’t want youth using the product. It is bad for public health, and it is bad for our mission. JUUL Labs and FDA share a common goal – preventing youth from initiating on nicotine. To paraphrase Commissioner Gottlieb, we want to be the off-ramp for adult smokers to switch from cigarettes, not an on-ramp for America’s youth to initiate on nicotine. We won’t be successful in our mission to serve adult smokers if we don’t narrow the on-ramp.
Our intent was never to have youth use JUUL products. But intent is not enough, the numbers are what matter, and the numbers tell us underage use of e-cigarette products is a problem. We must solve it.
For us to successfully fulfill our mission of helping adult smokers, we must be trusted – and we must earn that trust. That starts with action, not words.
Burns also relayed the messages in a short video:
Juul’s action plan to stop underage vaping includes halting retail distribution of its flavored products (mango, cucumber, creme and fruit), only allowing the mint, menthol and tobacco flavors to be sold on shelves.
Though Juul will still sell its flavored products online, it announced an age verification system to ensure customers are at least 21 years old. In addition, the company will only allow purchases to be sent to the same name on the credit card used, ensuring purchases are not made for others. Consumers can only buy two devices and 15 vape pods per month, as well, to cut down on bulk ordering.
Juul also announced it was going dark on a few social media platforms, aiming its remaining content toward adult customers.
Juul will shut down its Facebook and Instagram accounts and end promotional activity on Twitter, using it only for “non-promotional” communications, Burns said. The company has never used Snapchat. It will also use its YouTube account only to show former adult smokers’ testimonials. Juul already works with Instagram and Facebook to scrape inappropriate content, including images and videos of teenagers using its products.
The company isn’t taking all the responsibility for its brand mentions online, however—and said that social media platforms must also help to decrease the amount of vaping messages circulating online.
In its press release, Juul wrote:
More than 99 percent of all social media content related to JUUL Labs is generated through third-party users and accounts with no affiliation to our company.
… User-generated social media posts involving JUUL products or our brand are proliferating across platforms and must be swiftly addressed. There is no question that this user-generated social media content is linked to the appeal of vaping to underage users. This is why we have worked directly with social media platforms to remove tens of thousands of inappropriate posts.
We have asked Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat for their assistance in policing unauthorized, youth-oriented content on their platforms. We asked that each platform prohibit the posting of any content that promotes the use of cigarettes or e-cigarettes by underage users. The problem of combatting social media’s negative influence on underage vaping is larger than simply removing the JUUL Labs social media accounts, and it can only be solved with the assistance of these companies. The solution to combat underage use requires a strong effort on both of our ends, and we are eager to work with these social platforms to solve these issues.
Following Juul’s announcement, Gottlieb recognized the company’s efforts, but said they’re “no substitute for regulatory steps” that some reports say will come this week.
We’re deeply concerned about the epidemic of youth use of e-cigs. Voluntary action is no substitute for regulatory steps #FDA will soon take. But we want to recognize actions by JUUL today and urge all manufacturers to immediately implement steps to start reversing these trends. pic.twitter.com/blaoZDHRRj
— Scott Gottlieb, M.D. (@SGottliebFDA) November 13, 2018
Though Juul will probably have to increase its action plan, the company can still call its PR move a win if its announcement increases consumer trust and bolsters its brand reputation.
PR Daily readers, what do you think about Jull’s action plan ahead of FDA regulations?