Is this the end of JUUL memes?
JUUL announced a number of new measures to try to prevent teens from using its products on Tuesday.
Notably, it will stop allowing retailers to sell flavored pods until they install advanced age verification software from JUUL. The company is also discontinuing its own Facebook and Instagram accounts, and has asked social media companies to help remove youth-oriented JUUL content from its platforms — including the prohibition of posts depicting JUULing and vaping by underage users.
The new initiatives come days after it was reported that the FDA would prohibit convenience stores and gas stations from selling flavored pods. Rather than wait for FDA enforcement, JUUL has apparently taken proactive measures that go further than the FDA’s new policy. The FDA would have allowed tobacco and specialty vape shops to continue selling flavored pods, while JUUL’s new retailer policy will only allow this if the shops use JUUL’s Social Security number-matching age verification software.
“Our intent was never to have youth use JUUL products,” JUUL CEO Kevin Burns wrote in the statement. “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.”
Flavors are on the front line in the fight against youth vaping. The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids says that flavors make it easier for young people to start vaping. So now, the Mango, Fruit, Creme, and Cucumber JUULpod flavors are only available through JUUL’s website.
To buy anything on JUUL’s site, users already have to verify their age and identity with their Social Security numbers. JUUL said that that process is about to get even stricter: by the end of the year, JUUL will also require two-factor authentication to create an account, and it will even use “a real-time photo requirement to match a user’s face against an uploaded I.D.”
JUUL said it’s also continuing its fight against counterfeiters and unauthorized sellers in its attempt to ensure its own site (with age verification) is the only place people can buy the product.
Another big part of JUUL’s attempt to curb teen use is social media. In July, JUUL discontinued using models on social media in order to stop glamorizing the product. But JUUL images and memes have spread on social media outside of JUUL’s own social presence; the #DoIt4Juul hashtag on Instagram has over 7,200 posts, many conspicuously by teenagers, about how they love their JUULs.
JUUL notes that while it never had a Snapchat, even removing its Facebook and Instagram presence is a small part of the larger social media battle.
“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.”
JUUL says that it has already worked with social media companies to remove “thousands” of pieces of JUUL content that encourage teen vaping. But it also says that it has reached out to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter for additional help curbing this content on their platforms.
“We have asked Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat for their assistance in policing unauthorized, youth-oriented content on their platforms,” Burns wrote. “We asked that each platform prohibit the posting of any content that promotes the use of cigarettes or e-cigarettes by underage users.”
Snap told Mashable that it already prohibits all posts marketing tobacco products to people of all ages, not just teens. The company did not say whether it would work to prevent the actual posting of JUUL content by underage users, or offer any further comment on JUUL’s request. Twitter and Instagram declined to comment. Mashable did not hear back from Facebook or JUUL before this article was published.
Social media companies are already grappling with how to police content on their platforms, and may not be eager to add another thorny item to their to-do lists. Then again, fighting teen vaping may be much more straightforward than, say, hate speech, so this is an initiative where social media companies could have a positive impact.
The FDA is still investigating whether JUUL may have marketed products to teens. It has also undertaken a $60 million ad campaign to educate teens about the risks of vaping, which include addiction to nicotine and other health risks.
After months of negative headlines, JUUL has gone above and beyond the FDA’s requests, and seems eager to be seen as a partner, not an adversary, in the fight against teen vaping.