Study Highlights Influence of Illegal Compatible Products

recent study in Tobacco Control relating to an analysis of “JUUL-related” Instagram posts contains serious factual errors and mischaracterizations of JUUL Labs’ historical social-media activity, falsely tying the company to the activities of manufacturers of “JUUL compatible” products that we believe are illegally on the market. These products come from a large swath of manufacturers that aggressively target those underage through irresponsible marketing on social media and youth-appealing flavors such as “Strawberry Milk,” “Pink Lemonade,” “Lucky Charm,” “Bubble Bubble,” “Sour Gummy,” and “Rainbow Drops.”

While JUUL Labs appreciates the authors’ interest in understanding the tie between social-media content and youth use of vapor products, they improperly conflate historical content on JUUL Labs’ authorized Instagram account (defunct since November 2018) with wholly unaffiliated third-party content.

The effect is a misleading and inaccurate analysis, albeit masked as “research,” which mischaracterizes JUUL Labs’ prior social-media activity. At the time of this study, third-party users generated well over 99.99 percent of the Instagram content related to JUUL products. Additionally, JUUL Labs did not sponsor any “influencer” activities on any social media platform, including Instagram, from March to May 2018, when the research was conducted. As a result, this study does not measure JUUL Labs’ social-media presence as alleged, but instead provides a snapshot of the inappropriate social-media content perpetuated by others, including manufacturers of illegal and potentially dangerous compatible products that aggressively promote their products on social media to youth. 

Indeed, the authors conspicuously attribute the actions of these manufacturers of illegal compatible products, which aggressively promote their products on social media to youth, as if it were authorized and supported by JUUL Labs. In fact, JUUL Labs has sued Eonsmoke, one of the manufacturers whom the authors single out as a particularly egregious social-media offender, while inaccurately claiming they are an “affiliate vendor” of JUUL Labs. This is simply false.

In light of the widespread inaccuracies and mischaracterizations inherent to the study, we have requested the authors either retract it from publication or implement the extensive corrections needed to address these inaccuracies.

We agree these types of posts from bad actors are a serious problem and that is why we employ a social-media monitoring team dedicated to submitting takedown requests of exactly the type of inappropriate third-party social media content the authors cite as problematic.  To date, the social media team has succeeded in having removed 31,889 social media listings, including 25,405 individual Instagram posts, and an additional 1,251 Instagram accounts (impacting over 1.1 million followers of those accounts). The study authors fail to consider our public actions on this front, while falsely tying us to the actions of these irresponsible manufacturers.

Despite these many inaccuracies, the study does capture the rampant problems currently posed by counterfeit and compatible manufacturers, as well as other third parties, targeting youth on social media.  These products, in violation of FDA deeming laws, regulations, and policies represent a pressing public health threat: They are made with unknown ingredients and under unknown manufacturing and quality standards. Moreover, these products are marketed in overtly youth-appealing flavors and packaging and often sold online with little to no age verification. 

In addition to suing Eonsmoke in multiple forums for infringement of JUUL Labs’ intellectual property, we have initiated legal actions enforcing JUUL Labs’ intellectual property against dozens of other manufacturers of both illegal JUUL-compatible products and counterfeit products being imported from China.As smoking remains the number one cause of preventable death globally, and continues to claim nearly half a million American lives annually, it is vital we preserve access to alternative products for adult smokers. At the same time, category-wide action is needed to address these and other products that will continue to contribute to youth access and use because of their wide availability and youth-appealing marketing.