Social influencers, school partnerships and callbacks to Big Tobacco’s advertising playbook. Documents made public in a congressional hearing this week showed how Juul developed its youth and influencer programs.
Juul’s internal emails, invoices and contracts were obtained by the House Oversight Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy. The documents pertain to a division within Juul that focuses on youth prevention and education.
This group launched partnerships with schools, churches and summer camps. It also developed influencer campaigns to educate teachers, parents, teens and children about “facts about [Juul’s] product, its nicotine content, the impact of nicotine on the brain and body and actions young people can take to cope with peer influence and stress,” according to an email obtained by the subcommittee.
Juul worked with Brooklyn, New York-based agency Grit Creative Group on an influencer campaign. One of these programs recruited 280 social media influencers in Los Angeles and New York “to seed Juul product over the course of three months,” according to the contract.
Another influencer program invited influencers, lifestyle press and bloggers to attend and cover a Juul launch event in New York in 2015.
The documents also revealed Juul’s pilot programs with schools to develop a Juul-sponsored program about the dangers of e-cigarettes, resisting peer pressure and using mindfulness to deal with stress.
One program targeted at-risk teens in an Arizona school district, which was paid $10,000 per school for the pilot program, according to the subcommittee. Students who had to attend Saturday school due to disciplinary problems like possessing or using e-cigs at school or skipping class would receive the Juul-sponsored curriculum instead of the typical discipline. The Juul curriculum was also used in regular classrooms and summer school, according to the contract, which was dated June 2018.
Another program put Juul-sponsored curriculum in summer camps and after-school activities in Maryland schools in a pilot program for which Juul paid $134,000. The summer program also collected data about the students who attended, according to the subcommittee.
While these programs were happening, Juul executives were rethinking youth programs, according to emails. One employee said Juul’s youth initiative was “eerily similar” to Big Tobacco’s of more than 20 years ago. Juul employees also met with a former Philip Morris employee about their youth programming, according to the committee’s report.
The Food and Drug Administration has blamed Juul’s marketing tactics for the sharp increase in teen vaping. However, Juul has said it focused its youth programs on healthy lifestyles and the dangers of smoking and vaping. The company has also pulled its popular flavored pods off shelves to stem youth use.
The FDA is considering how to regulate e-cigarettes, and some cities have gone as far as completely banning sales.