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Study: E-cigarette maker Juul triggers nicotine 'arms race'
03:40 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Tobacco opponents and Juul executives are testifying on Capitol Hill this week during a two-day hearing on the company’s role in “the youth nicotine epidemic,” according to the House Oversight Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy.

The hearing will scrutinize the leading vape company’s marketing, health claims and relationship with Big Tobacco – namely, tobacco giant Altria, which invested nearly $13 billion in Juul Labs late last year.

The list of attendees sets the stage for a heated clash over whether e-cigarettes should be subject to stronger regulation, weighing their potential benefit to adults who want to quit smoking against the risk that a generation of young people will become addicted to nicotine.

Democratic Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, the chairman of the subcommittee, announced last month that his panel was investigating Juul, and asked the company to “provide memoranda and communications regarding its social media practices, advertising, and the product’s long-term impact on consumer health.”

“The safety and well-being of America’s youth is not for sale,” Krishnamoorthi said in a letter to Juul CEO Kevin Burns dated June 7. “I am extremely concerned about reports that JUUL’s high nicotine content is fueling addiction and that frequent JUUL use is sending kids across the country into rehab, some as young as 15.”

Social media about Juul continues to soar, new study says

During the first day of the hearing, on Wednesday, committee members will hear from representatives of groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and Parents Against Vaping E-cigarettes. Other witnesses include experts such as Dr. Robert Jackler, founder of Stanford Research Into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising.

In research shared exclusively with CNN and now posted online, Jackler’s team found that the amount of Juul-related content posted by Instagram users has exploded in the months since the company shut down its own social media accounts in November.

In the eight months since Juul phased out its social media, more than half a million Instagram posts have featured hashtags related to Juul, the paper says. That’s double the number that had been posted in the three and a half years before Juul discontinued its accounts.

“Among #juul posts, 15.4% showed JUUL products, 28.1% JUUL competitors, and 3.7% products from both JUUL and its competitors,” says the paper, which has not yet undergone peer review. “Reflecting the popularity of #juul as a gathering place for its largely youthful audience, non-vaping related posts made up the remaining 52.8%.”

In a statement Wednesday, a Juul representative said “we strongly support Instagram fully banning #juul and implementing enhanced community standards to address inappropriate vaping content targeted at youth,” adding that Juul has reached out to the social media company to discuss such policies in the past.

Earlier this month, in response to other research on Juul-related Instagram posts, Juul spokesman Ted Kwong cautioned against conflating the company’s own posts with “wholly unaffiliated third-party content, including content from entities we are actively suing for their inappropriate and unauthorized activities.”

“We agree these types of posts 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,” said Kwong at the time, adding that this team has resulted in the removal of “31,889 social media listings, including 25,405 individual Instagram posts, and an additional 1,251 Instagram accounts.”

In Jackler’s new paper, he also published examples of youth-oriented content on Instagram referencing Juul. Some posts included humor – “I only suck juuls, sorry boys,” one post reads – while others took a more serious tone.

In one video archived by Jackler, a toddler is handed a Juul and proceeds to suck on it.

“It is striking how members of the community who post to #juul have few boundaries,” Jackler said of the video, which was removed by Instagram on July 8 for violating its policies, according to a spokeswoman for the platform.

Jackler says both Juul