Juul's Popularity On Instagram Explored In New Study

By Paul Gaita 07/08/19

Researchers uncovered nearly 15,000 Instagram posts related to Juul, all of which were posted over a three-month period in 2018.

Juul electronic cigarette sitting beside a phone and clock
ID 124611781 © Steveheap | Dreamstime.com

Thousands of posts about the e-cigarette brand Juul appeared on Instagram in just a three-month period in 2018, and more than half were focused on cultures or lifestyles related to young people.

Those are among the findings in a new study in the online journal Tobacco Control, which, as UPI noted, also included posts comprised of content that promoted means of purchasing Juul-related products at a reduced cost.

Spokesperson: Juul Is Cutting Back On Digital Marketing

A spokesperson for Juul said that the company itself only issued eight posts on Instagram during that three-month period, and has actively sought to reduce digital marketing and social media listings, which medical specialists have claimed can contribute to the appeal of such products among young people.

The study—conducted by researchers from the non-profit public health organization Truth Initiative, as well as New York University, the University of Chicago and Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health—looked at discussions of Juul and its products on social media by using hashtag-based keyword queries to collect posts about the e-cigarette brand.

They uncovered nearly 15,000 Instagram posts related to Juul, all of which were posted between March and May of 2018. More than half of the posts (55%) contained what UPI described as "youth-related content"—memes, cartoon images and celebrity references, and using Juul products at home, school or other places that were likely to be frequented by teenagers.

Another 57% of the posts also mentioned or specifically highlighted using Juul with family or friends during social activities, while approximately one in 10 also mentioned the addictive properties of nicotine, albeit in a "fun light," as UPI said.

Juul Deactivates Facebook, Instagram

Lindsay Andrews, a spokesperson for Juul Labs, said that six of the company's eight Instagram posts in the time period covered in the study were testimonials from former adult smokers.

Andrews also said that in November 2018, the company deleted its Facebook and Instagram accounts, removed thousands of social media listings by third parties—including more than 25,000 individual Instagram posts—and limited its Twitter usage to non-promotional items like press releases. 

But some health specialists remain skeptical of these efforts. Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City said, "Every young person has Instagram, and that's how they share information. The actual industry doesn't have to do anything but let the people using the device share their insights, and advice and encouragement."

Study senior researcher Elizabeth Hair, who is also the senior vice president of Truth Initiative's Schroeder Institute, said that stricter regulation on social media could help to stem the tide of posts she and her co-authors uncovered.

"If we can stop the promotional pieces of it, I think that will help stem a lot of it," she said. "A lot of this content was from companies that were selling the product and had these promotional aspects to it."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.