Feds target vaping companies' use of social media 'influencers'

Feds target vaping companies' use of social media 'influencers'
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Federal regulators on Friday sent warning letters to four companies that produce e-liquid, accusing them of inappropriately promoting their vaping products through social media influencers on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), influencers posted content touting flavored e-liquid products or recommended their social media followers try flavors such as tropical freeze, strawberry kiwi, cotton cookies and watermelon patch.

The influencer posts did not contain the FDA’s required warning that the products contain nicotine, which is highly addictive.

Facebook officially prohibits advertising or selling tobacco products, but there are loopholes. The FTC has also been reminding influencers that they need to clearly disclose their relationships to brands when promoting or endorsing products through social media.  

The warning letters come as the FDA is trying to crack down on tobacco companies, and e-cigarette makers in particular, amid a massive spike in teen vaping.

“Years of progress to combat youth use of tobacco is now threatened by an epidemic of e-cigarette use by kids, and unfortunately research shows many youth are mistaken or unaware of the risks and the presence of nicotine in e-cigarettes,” acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless said in a statement.

The influencers were working on behalf of Solace Vapor, Hype City Vapors, Humble Juice Co. and Artist Liquid Labs. The companies have 15 days to tell the FDA and FTC how they are addressing the agencies’ concerns.

Notably, there were no warning letters sent to Juul, the largest e-cigarette company on the market. Facing mounting pressure over charges it advertised to youth, Juul last year closed its Facebook and Instagram accounts, and shifted its marketing focus to older adults who are already smokers.

The company told Senate Democrats earlier this year that it does not currently pay any social media influencers. Juul said from its inception, it has only paid a total of six people — who were all at least 28 years old and either current or former smokers —  to promote its products on social media.

More than 3.6 million middle and high school students across the country were e-cigarette users in 2018, according to the National Youth Tobacco Survey.