Congressional Hearings on Teen-Vaping Epidemic: Juul Company Went Beyond Traditional Advertising
The 2-day Congressional hearing on Juul Company’s role in the teen-vaping epidemic, revealed that the e-cigarette company, went beyond traditional advertising campaigns to promote vaping; not only among cigarette smokers but directly among youths.
The Company Paid Influencers to Post “Lifestyle Content” at Popular Media Sites to Promote Juul
During the House subcommittee hearing, an internal company email news blast from 2015, confirmed an earlier CNN investigative report of how the e-cigarette company made arrangements for the promotion of the Juul brand by way of a so-called influencer program. The e-mailed newsletter showed that part of the company’s promotional campaign is to recruit 1,500 former cigarette smokers who had shifted to Juul use, to act as influencers.
Influencers referred to persons who post “lifestyle contents” at popular social media sites to spread the word about the Juul device. Notwithstanding the fact that the social media accounts of said influencers, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, are public and can be viewed by anyone under 18 years old.
The email further revealed that the company’s future goal is to put the device into the hands of 12,500 influencers, who will in turn, introduce Juul to over 1.5 million people. Apparently, the email news blast did not make mention of excluding underage youths as targets of their promotional campaigns.
In a letter addressed to the committee explaining about their use of influencers at social media sites, the e-cigarette company asserted that they did not have a traditional celebrity; that only four people were used in their influencer program.
Democratic Rep. Katie Hill asked Juul co-founder, James Monsees, about the discrepancy of the number of influencers stated in the email newsletter, compared to the number stated in their letter to the committee. The Juul executive who was testifying under oath, merely replied that the question falls under a territory he is not completely familiar with, but which he promised to look into.
Actually, CNN investigated the discrepancy, to which a Juul spokesperson explained the reason for the conflicting numbers. It turned out that the four influencers were those who were actually paid for their services. The others were compensated by way of discounts. There was also a marketing agency involved, via an agreement with PAX Lab, the company that developed Juul.
Juul Company Spent on Education Programs for Children and Teens
Based on internal memos, emails and contracts submitted to the committee, the company disbursed hundreds of thousands of dollars for youth programs collectively called Education and Youth Prevention Program. The programs paid high schools in at least one school district, which came with memoranda of agreement, allowing Juul Consultants to hold lectures on holistic health education. The program included a summer camp in Baltimore, to which youths between grade 3 and 12 were recruited.
Each memorandum of agreement included a condition that involved transfers of data regarding test scores pertaining to assessments of “risky behaviors” and “general health knowledge.” A Juul spokesperson said the program ended without the company receiving such data.
JuuL chief administrative officer, Ashley Gould, was pressed for answers by Rep. Katie Hill as to what purpose the company intended to use the data they requested. Gould however, testified she had no knowledge of the data transfers.
Furthermore, the Juul letter of explanation to the committee said the program was short-lived. It ended in September 2018, after its purpose was misconstrued. Some teens testified that the Juul Consultants who came to a ninth-grade classroom, described the Juul device as “totally safe.”
House committee members likewise questioned the Juul company’s intention for carrying holistic education programs similar to those conducted by Big Tobacco companies, considering that the company entered into a tie-up with the Marlboro company.