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Stanford unveils trove of Juul e-cig ads, photos which experts say targeted teens




  • Stanford researchers recently unveiled a trove of
    images from ads that Silicon Valley
    e-cigarette startup Juul
    used to market its flash
    drive-esque devices.
  • The company was recently valued at
    $15 billion,
    but it faces a
    growing backlash
    from public-health experts and scientists
    who worry about its skyrocketing popularity among
    young people

  • Juul
    maintains that its products are for adult smokers who
    want to move away from traditional cigarettes.
  • But a
    recent study
    found that Juul stood out from other e-cig
    companies by marketing its devices on social-media platforms
    such as Twitter and Instagram — platforms with large numbers of
    young users.

The kids are not alright.

According to regulators and public health experts, vaping is the
latest trend among young people, and the habit is creating a

generation of new smokers
. At the center of the controversy
is Silicon Valley e-cigarette startup
, whose sleek devices now
rule the vaping market

At Stanford University, the alma mater of
Juul co-founders
Adam Bowen and James Monsees, researchers
have been quietly assembling
a trove
of images, videos, and social media posts that the
startup used to market its devices. Their work, which they
revealed for the first time last week, is part of a larger study
on the effects of tobacco advertising and includes faculty and
students from pediatrics and medicine to history and

The thousands of images shed light on how a tiny vaping startup
used a combination of
launch parties
social media
, and free samples to become the predominant
seller of e-cigs in just three years. And they add new fuel to
the debate over whether the company
deliberately marketed to young people
, as US regulators

launch a crackdown
on youth vaping.

The images suggest that Juul’s ad campaign began
with launch
parties in New York City
 and other cities, where guests
were invited to try the Juul for free and share selfies on social

“Juul’s launch campaign was patently youth-oriented,” Robert
, a practicing Stanford physician and the prinicpal
investigator behind the tobacco image collection, told Business

An ad for Juul’s launch
party, posted to Instagram and shared by Juul


Juul has maintained that its products are not for young people
and are intended entirely for adults looking to transition away
from traditional cigarettes and onto less harmful vaping

“The advertising was intended for adults, was short lived
and had very little impact on our growth,” a Juul
spokesperson told Business Insider in response to questions about
the Stanford research.

According to the Stanford researchers who collected the images,
one of the main aims of Juul’s New York City launch party (along
with a handful of similar events in other cities) was to give
away free or highly discounted samples of its products, which
contain highly addictive nicotine. 

“Their business model was to get the devices in your hands either
for free or cheaply,” Jackler said.

Read more:
Silicon Valley e-cig startup Juul ‘threw a really great party’ to
launch its devices, which experts say deliberately targeted

More than 1,500 samples were given out at each event, according
to materials viewed by Business Insider from the Los
Angeles-based advertising firm that helped Juul plan the events.

But after learning that US regulators forbade free sampling of
tobacco products — a 2010 rule that was amended
to include e-cigarettes like the Juul in 2016
, the company
began charging people $1 for the products, Jackler said. 

Shortly after the launch parties came what Juul insiders refer to
simply as the “triangle campaign,” a series of ads which featured
young people posing with a Juul on a brightly-colored,
triangle-bedazzled background.


As part of that campaign, Juul emailed customers and encouraged
them to become what they called “Juul influencers,” according to
materials that Jackler shared with Business Insider.

That strategy directly impacted teens, he said.

“You started seeing viral peer-to-peer communication among teens
who basically became brand ambassadors for Juul,” said Jackler.

Jackler and his team of researchers also compared Juul’s ads to
the campaigns of traditional Big Tobacco companies. In one
section of the collection, the researchers display Juul ads
side-by-side with traditional tobacco ads from brands like
Virginia Slims, Lucky Strike, and Kool.

Juul side by side comparison e-cigs cigs Virginia SlimsSRITA

In addition to posting its photo ads
across social media platforms
like YouTube, Instagram, and
Twitter, Juul advertised its sweet flavors as one of the main
reasons to use the product.

Researchers have said these flavors are used to hook young
people; Juul maintains that the flavors play a key role in
helping adults transition to their products and away from
combustible cigarettes.

Read more:

The wildly popular e-cig startup Juul is valued at $15 billion,
but it faces a growing backlash of lawsuits and

One Twitter ad featuring their Creme Brulee-flavored cartridges
asked viewers to RT if they enjoyed “dessert without the


A handful of researchers and public health experts say that
numerous components of Juul’s advertising campaign — from holding
parties to launch their products to emphasizing their sweet
flavors — had the effect of making their products appealing to
young people who otherwise would not use tobacco products.

Last week in an attempt to address what’s been called an
“epidemic” of teen vaping, federal regulators at the Food and
Drug Administration announced
plans to

flavored e-cigarettes 
the Juul
 behind a
stronger regulatory fence

Read more:

Regulators will ban menthol cigarettes and chip away at flavored
e-cigs to combat teen vaping — but experts say their plans fall

In an attempt to get ahead of the FDA’s planned regulatory
moves, Juul
temporarily halted sales
of its flavored products in retail
stores. It has also changed the names of some of its flavors to
remove some of their youth appeal. Creme Brulee is now Creme;
Fruit Medley and Cool Cucumber are now simply Fruit and

“Although Juul is taking measures now to address the virality of
its products among teenagers, it’s too little too late,” Jackler

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