How Juuling became a public health crisis (via Instagram and Snapchat)

From a New Yorker article this week, Jia Tolentino explores how Juul has become a major threat to big tobacco, the hottest thing for teenagers across the country, a social media phenomenon, and a public health crisis.

The health professionals are already calling Juuling a “nathional health crisis,” made possible by co-opting a wellness trend in America. And it’s getting huge. “An analyst at Wells Fargo projects that this year the American vaporizer market will grow to five and a half billion dollars, an increase of more than twenty-five per cent from 2017. In the latest data, sixty per cent of that market belongs to Juul.”

According to a 2017 study by the C.D.C., about fifty per cent more high schoolers and middle schoolers vape than smoke. Tolentino writes, “Young people have taken a technology that was supposed to help grownups stop smoking and invented a new kind of bad habit, one that they have molded in their own image. The potential public-health benefit of the e-cigarette is being eclipsed by the unsettling prospect of a generation of children who may really love to vape.”

And on the viral marketing of Juul, Tolentino writes: “Just as the iconic images of Malboro were shaped by Madison Avenue, Juul has been defined by Instagram and Snapchat. The company’s official Instagram account, @juulvapor, is age-appropriate and fairly boring—it has an aesthetic reminiscent of Real Simple,and forty-four thousand followers. But viral, teen-centric Juul fan accounts like @doit4juul (a hundred and ten thousand followers) are populated with a different sort of imagery: a bodybuilder Juuling in a tank top that says “Real Men Eat Ass”; a baby (labelled “me”) being shoved into a birthday cake (“the Juul”) by her mom (“my nicotine addiction”); a topless college student who has a Juul in her mouth and is wearing a pink hat that says “Daddy.” Teen Juul iconography radiates a dirtbag silliness. Vapes are meme-ready, funny in a way that cigarettes never were: the black-and-white photograph of James Dean smoking in shirtsleeves has been replaced with paparazzi snaps of Ben Affleck ripping an e-cig in his car. In one popular video, a girl tries to Juul with four corn dogs in her mouth. In another, teens at a party suck on a flash drive that they’ve mistaken for a Juul. “I know one of the girls in that video!” a high-school senior from Maryland told me. “It was a huge deal at my school.”

Above, the Juul website. Below, a post with the #Juuling hashtag on Instagram.


This is a classic example of a brand stepping back and letting viral marketing do its job – whether it was for the “intended” audience or not – with major consequences.