E-cigarette company Juul announced today that it is shutting down its social media accounts and will stop selling most of its flavored vape pods in advance stricter regulations on the types of e-cigarettes that can be sold and where they can be purchased.
Although they’re not supposed to be sold to minors, the vapes are wildly popular with teenagers and have spawned memes and parody accounts on social media. In recent months, JUUL has introduced lower-nicotine pods and has begun age-verifying its online sales. But the spread of Juul among teens has happened in part because of online virality.
In a company blog post on Tuesday, Kevin Burns, CEO of Juul Labs, announced the social media shutdown as part of an “action plan” to attempt to counteract teen juuling. Juul is shutting down its Instagram and Facebook accounts, and will confine its Twitter presence to “non-promotional communications only.” YouTube, which Juul has age-restricted to 21+, will be used for adult testimonials about quitting smoking.
“By deterring social media promotion of the JUUL system by exiting our accounts, we can better prevent teens and non-smokers from ever becoming interested in the device,” Burns wrote.
Not only is the company shutting down its own accounts, but it intends to monitor what other accounts say about Juul as well. “User-generated social media posts involving Juul products or our brand are proliferating across platforms and must be swiftly addressed,” Burns wrote. “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.”
At this point, Juul has become so embedded in teen and high school culture that it’s unclear whether deplatforming its own brand will make the company any less popular with minors.
Last month, researchers found that at least a quarter of Juul’s Twitter followers appeared to be under the age of 18. "Juul representatives have said the company is not trying to target adolescents with their advertising or sales, but our research clearly indicates that a sizeable proportion of their Twitter audience is exactly this population," lead author Kar-Hai Chu, Ph.D. said in a press release for the study. "This is highly concerning because adolescents exposed to e-cigarette marketing are more likely to use e-cigarettes and, in turn, young adults who use e-cigarettes are four times as likely as their non-vaping peers to transition to smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes."
This is the latest in an ongoing struggle between the Food and Drug Administration and vape companies. In April, the FDA sent warnings to retailers, informing them that they were violating laws that prohibit selling e-cigarettes to minors. And in September, the FDA deemed teenage vaping an “epidemic,” and launched the “largest coordinated enforcement effort in [its] history,” including sending warnings and fines to more than 1,300 retailers and five manufacturers it claimed violated existing minor sales laws.