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E-cigarette maker Juul has settled a lawsuit over its practice of targeting teens through social media, parties and models – here’s why the company pays dozens of states $438.5 million

(The Conversation is an independent, nonprofit source of news, analysis, and commentary from academic experts.)

(THE CONVERSATION) In early September 2022, e-cigarette maker Juul Labs — the face of the teen vaping epidemic — agreed to pay out $438.5 million to 33 states.

The settlement concludes a two-year bipartisan investigation into the e-cigarette maker’s marketing and sales practices for its vaping products. These states claimed that Juul marketed its addictive nicotine products to teenagers. The company had already settled disputes with four other states.

As part of the settlement, Juul also agreed to limit marketing and sales practices that may appeal to teens. Additionally, the company faces pending lawsuits by nine other states and hundreds of claims on behalf of teenagers who want to hold Juul responsible for their nicotine addiction.

In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration said e-cigarette, or “vaping,” use among young people had reached “epidemic proportions.” Juul’s arrival coincided with a massive increase in teen vaping.

Although Juul is just one type of e-cigarette in the field of vaping products, its sales accounted for 70% of the market at the end of 2017. Juul quickly dominated after its launch in 2015 due to its discreet design – it is small, concealable. and looks like a USB – as well as its high nicotine concentration and range of flavors. The 33 state parties to the lawsuit claimed that the company’s aggressive and targeted marketing and sales practices fueled teen vaping adoption.

As a tobacco control researcher, I use publicly available data from social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube to capture and describe the marketing practices of companies whose products may directly affect the public health. I have conducted studies on the impact of tobacco marketing on adolescents and young adults.

Juul use in children has been a focus of my research since 2016. It was during this time that my colleagues and I found hundreds of posts on Twitter describing college students sneaking Juul products into the field of school for use during school hours. The latest settlement marks a small victory for those struggling with teenage Juul use.

The Effects of Nicotine on the Developing Brain

In 2021, an FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey found that some 2.55 million high school and college students — or 9.3% of U.S. students in that age bracket — reported have used a tobacco product in the last 30 years. days. Electronic cigarettes were the most commonly used tobacco product; according to the 2021 survey, 2.06 million high school and college students reported using e-cigarettes.

Electronic cigarettes like Juul often contain nicotine, which has been shown by a large body of research to be an addictive substance. Prolonged exposure to nicotine can have a detrimental impact on brain development during adolescence.

The adolescent brain continues to develop into early adulthood, particularly in the prefrontal cortex. This region of the brain is involved in higher cognitive development, including cognitive functions related to attention, memory, and cognitive flexibility. Human neuroimaging studies have revealed that nicotine exposure leads to long-term functional and structural changes in the brain.

How Juul usage took off among teens

Juul’s two-year survey found that the company quickly grew in popularity, in part through marketing to underage users by hosting launch parties. Juul also hired young, fashionable models to appear in advertisements and relied on social media posts to boost brand awareness.

Juul’s use of social media to appeal to young people was a concern my colleagues and I raised in 2018. We looked at whether teens – defined in our study as anyone under the age of 18 – followed the official Twitter account of Juul and the extent to which teenagers shared Juul messages to their own followers – other teenagers.

To do this, we collected all tweets from Juul’s official Twitter account from February 2017 to January 2018. We then identified Juul’s tweets that were retweeted, that is, shared by others on Twitter . We found that there were 721 unique users who shared Juul tweets during this time. We then determined whether these unique users were teenagers or adults based on a systematic classification procedure.

Our study showed that 25% of users following Juul were teenagers. We also found that a teenager could be exposed to messages from Juul without directly following the official Juul account, following a retweet.

Our results have clear implications for public health. For example, a meta-analysis—or a study that synthesizes relevant, available data on a topic from previous research—found that exposure to online e-cigarette marketing increases a teenager’s risk of trying cigarettes. electronic.

Targeted Strategies for Youth

Although Juul admitted no wrongdoing, as part of the settlement, it agreed to refrain from marketing to young people and from depicting people under 35 in any marketing. Juul also agreed to forgo the use of paid influencers — public figures with large followings on social media platforms who promote products on behalf of brands for monetary compensation or other benefits. And as part of the settlement, the company agreed to refrain from product placement, the use of cartoons, and other marketing practices appealing to teens.

I am cautiously optimistic that the settlement reached between Juul and the States will help curb e-cigarette use among teens. However, Juul’s share of the e-cigarette market has dwindled in recent years, being replaced by single-use disposable e-cigarettes like the new popular PuffBar. PuffBar offers its products in a variety of flavors, which is important because flavored e-cigarettes are all the rage among American college and high school students.

Juul is just one e-cigarette company that has used appealing marketing practices for teens. For example, our team’s research revealed that e-cigarette companies used cartoons as company logos and in other promotional materials. We’ve documented 106 companies that have used cartoons to help establish their brand identity.

In 2021, we examined associations between recognition of e-cigarette packaging with cartoons and e-cigarette use. We also studied adolescents’ susceptibility to e-cigarette use and their expectations of benefits and risks associated with use. To assess how well adolescents recognize cartoon images on product labels, we presented adolescents in our study with 40 images of e-cigarette packaging – 20 with cartoons and 20 without. We then asked each teenager if they recognized the products.

We found a positive association between cartoon image recognition and e-cigarette use, sensitivity to use, and a perceived social benefit of use. In other words, we determined that teens recognized e-cigarette cartoon marketing and that these teens used e-cigarettes.

A step in the right direction

The settlement comes at a time when the public outcry against teen vaping has reached fever pitch. While the rule is an important step forward, research from the tobacco control community shows that the marketing practices of tobacco companies can and will influence young people to consider trying tobacco products, including Electronic cigarettes.

As Juul’s popularity declines and new e-cigarette companies begin to capture more market share, strict measures to limit additional marketing practices will be essential in efforts to prevent more young people from becoming addicted. to nicotine.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: the-company-pays-438-5-million-to-dozens-of-states-190399.