E-cigarette manufacturer Juul Labs responded to concerns expressed by Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb by outlining several steps it is taking to keep its products out of the hands of underage users, including the shuttering of its social media accounts.
The company said it will shut down its U.S.-based Facebook and Instagram accounts, while using its Twitter account solely for non-promotional communications. Its YouTube account, which is already age-gated to bar users under 21, will be used for testimonials by former smokers who have switched to Juul products. The company said it has never had a presence on Snapchat.
However, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids spokeswoman Caroline Renzulli believes the damage is already done, telling Sheila Kaplan and Jan Hoffman of The New York Times, “Juul’s social media marketing fueled its popularity with kids. Now that it has captured 75 percent of the e-cigarette market, Juul no longer needs to do social media marketing because its young customers are doing it for them.”
On that note, Juul also promised to monitor and remove inappropriate material from third-party accounts and said it has asked Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat for assistance on that front, with CEO Kevin Burns noting, “More than 99 percent of all social media content related to Juul Labs is generated through third-party users and accounts with no affiliation to our company … There is no question that this user-generated social media content is linked to the appeal of vaping to underage users.”
He continued, “We asked that each platform prohibit the posting of any content that promotes the use of cigarettes or e-cigarettes by underage users. The problem of combatting social media’s negative influence on underage vaping is larger than simply removing the Juul Labs social media accounts, and it can only be solved with the assistance of these companies. The solution to combat underage use requires a strong effort on both of our ends, and we are eager to work with these social platforms to solve these issues.”
Juul Labs also revealed that it would no longer accept orders from the more than 90,000 retailer stores that carry its products for its mango, fruit, crème and cucumber flavored pods, saying the company was sensitive to Gottlieb’s claim that “flavors play an important role in driving the youth appeal.”
Those flavored pods will now be available solely via Juul.com, which requests name, date of birth, permanent address and the last four digits of the Social Security number from potential customers, verifying that information with a third party and cross-referencing it with publicly available records to ensure that the person is at least 21.
Online customers are also limited to two devices and 15 pod packages per month, and 10 devices per year, in an effort to prevent people from distributing the company’s products to minors. And Juul said additional protections would be in place by year-end, such as two-factor authentication to verify identity via phone numbers, as well as requiring real-time photos.
Juul Labs also said it will boost its secret shopper program from 500 visits per month to some 2,000 in order to ensure that retailers are following its standards, as well as continue enforcement efforts against online marketplaces that sell its products in violation of their terms of service, adding that over 23,000 third-party listings have been removed so far in 2018 from online marketplaces such as eBay, Alibaba, Amazon and DHgate.
Burns said, “Our intent was never to have youth use Juul products. 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.”