TikTok is facing problems with the e-cigarette VAPE. Despite a US law banning the sale of e-cigarettes to customers under the age of 21 in 2019, disposable e-cigarette and VAPE (flavored e-cigarette) promotional videos are still relatively relatively within the TikTok app. Easy to find.
These videos, which feature popular and savory music and promote scented and flavored cartridges such as fruit and mint flavors that are currently banned (in the US), target teens. It’s clear. Some distributors are blaming “cautious” packaging services.
The VAPE products they ship to buyers are hidden under padding to allow them to slip through the eyes of parental surveillance, or are packed inside other products such as cosmetic pouches and fluffy slippers.
In particular, there was growing interest in flavored disposable VAPEs, which are highly appealing to minors and young people, which triggered the FDA’s crackdown on Juul.
In February 2020, the FDA took the first enforcement action against illegally sold e-cigarettes, including products targeting minors and products that offer flavors other than tobacco and menthol flavors. Clearly, there was a purpose to crack down on Juul.
As a result, young people who wanted flavors such as bubble gum, peach and strawberry ran to disposable VAPEs like the Puff Bar. Disposable VAPEs were cheap and easy to find and continued to be legally sold at convenience stores and gas stations.
That’s it. TikTok is also full of disposable vape, and anyone can get it immediately if they can pay.
For that matter, reporting such illegal content to TikTok does not mean that all of it will be removed.
TechCrunch found that the vendors selling VAPE on TikTok use both in-app videos and comments to reach their customers.
In addition, they are directing TikTok visitors to websites that appear to be illegal. Their TikTok videos also frequently show inventory of VAPE products, including disposable VAPEs like the flavored Puff Bar that minors like.
In short, distributors are using TikTok as a free and effective way to promote VAPE to younger audiences who haven’t lost interest in VAPE after the enforcement of FDA regulations. ..
According to the latest survey by the Truth Initiative, a non-profit organization for tobacco control, Juul usage declined between 2019 and 2020, but still 41% of 10th to 12th grade VAPE users. Likes Juul, making it the most favorite e-cigarette brand of its age.
From the survey results, it can be seen that sales of disposable products such as Puff Bar (8%) and Smok (Smock, 13.1%) increased during the same period.
In September 2020, the Truth Initiative issued the following statement: “The 2020 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) combined with new e-cigarette sales statistics shows that current federal law bans mint-flavored products in the market.
It’s clear that young people quickly moved to menthol e-cigarettes (especially Juul’s menthol pods), and that low-cost, flavored e-cigarettes like the Puff Bar have skyrocketed in popularity. ”
According to the group, “By using names like cotton candy and banana ice cream that children will want to touch, the disposable e-cigarette market will be in just 10 months from August 2019 to May 2020. Has doubled. ”
In addition, TikTok is a major contributor to this issue.
According to third-party estimates released to Statista, 32.5% of active TikTok users in the United States are currently estimated to be accounts used by teens. Also, according to figures released by TikTok in 2020, there are about 100 million monthly active users of TikTok in the United States.
Meanwhile, TikTok videos tagged with popular brand names for VAPE and e-cigarettes and related keywords have earned hundreds of millions of views.
For example, the number of views of TikTok videos with the hashtag “#juul” of Juul, which is synonymous with the VAPE brand, has reached 623.9 million at the time of writing this article.
The number of views of videos with the hashtag “#puffbar” of Puff Bar, China’s first single-use VAPE product maker, is 449.8 million times. Other brands have also gained a large number of views. For example, “#njoy” has 55.3 million views, “#smok” has 40.1 million views, and British American Tobacco’s “#Vuse” has 5 million views.
Since these views are just the number of views for one hashtag of a word, there are innumerable hashtags in which that word is combined with another word. For example, there are hashtags such as “#puffbars”, “#puffbarplus”, and “#puffbardealer”, and each tag has reached 66.8 million views, 9.6 million views, and 8.9 million views in order.
Not all of these hashtags are tied to VAPE product and e-cigarette vendors, but there is certainly a significant amount of e-cigarette-related content within the TikTok app. For example, tags like “#juulgang” (590.4 million views) are used by VAPE smokers’ content creators as hashtags to counter VAPE-related content.
Such trends are alarming. This is especially true given the large number of young people who use TikTok. In fact, one-third of US TikTok users are probably under the age of 14.
The US App Store has set an age limit for using TikTok over 12 years old, and Google Play has set the recommended age for TikTok content as “Teen (13 years old and over)”.
TikTok has changed the privacy defaults for younger accounts, quickly eliminating controversial hashtags (like conspiracy theories in the US presidential election), but on the other hand, to content about VAPE products. Access is not restricted at all.
In addition to the prevalence of e-cigarette smoking e-cigarette smoking on TikTok, TechCrunch finds that many VAPE sellers use easy-to-understand account names such as “@puffsonthelow”, “@PuffUniverse” and “@Puffbarcafe” at the time of sale It was.
The pages of those accounts are boldly lined with VAPE-related videos, including inventory lists currently on sale, and tagged with VAPE-related terms such as “#puffbarchallenge,” “#puffplus,” and “#vaperticks.”
Perhaps some VAPE sellers had “#kids” and other trend tags on their videos.
We know that most of our target audience is teenage vape enthusiasts, so many of the videos posted by sellers include VAPE in other products to prevent parents from finding it.
Also included was a depiction telling that it could be delivered in a packaged state hidden in stuffing. I found a number of videos of vape hiding and packing under candy, in makeup pouches, in socks, under other large products, and so on.
Through the links published in your account profile and the links shown on the video, TikTok users will be automatically transferred to the seller’s website or Discord’s channel, which only requires age verification in a pop-up. It ends up.
In many cases, you can add the product to your shopping cart and pay for it immediately. Most sellers are enticing customers to make payments using PayPal, Venmo, Cash App, etc. instead of regular credit card payments.
All of these actions are illegal, according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, a well-known non-profit organization in the United States that campaigns to reduce smoking, especially among young people.
Matt Myers, head of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, told TechCrunch: “It is illegal not only to sell e-cigarette-related products to minors under the age of 21, but also to directly appeal to them. It is also illegal to carry out actual sales procedures without confirming their age.”
In addition, Myers adds that simply clicking the “I’m 21+” button on the website is not a legally valid age verification for selling e-cigarette products.
The FDA has not yet released specific guidance on online sales, but it is legal that retailers must verify their identity card (ID) at the time of sale to prevent sales to minors. It is clearly defined in.
The FDA has also recently enacted new regulations on the delivery of these products through the United States Postal Service and other courier companies to reduce the purchase of e-cigarettes and other tobacco products from online retailers. It reminded TechCrunch of what I did.
But Myers points out that the current FDA guidelines have made it more difficult than necessary to crack down on VAPE sales “through social media.”
“Images, influencer use, and sales advertising used for VAPE sales on social media are controlled by the FDA in accordance with federal standards. However, the FDA’s federal standards are very broad and general. We haven’t provided clear and specific guidelines, which makes it feel like everyone is always playing a’mogura’game,” Myers said.
In most cases, the crackdown will only take place with FDA intervention, but such interventions are “very rare,” according to Myers.
“All of the attitudes, behaviors and products we see today violate the aforementioned laws regarding e-cigarettes. Nevertheless, the crackdown system introduced under the previous administration is sadly weak and inadequate.” Myers says.
Another factor complicating matters is that public health support groups such as Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids have not been able to establish the proper relationships with other social networks with TikTok. There is.
Over the past few years, more than 100 public health support groups have united against leading social networks such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. We’ve asked them to crack down on the use of influencers in tobacco-related content and sales.
As a result of such efforts, Facebook and Instagram have enacted new rules that prohibit social media influencers from promoting tobacco-related products and developing algorithms to extract their content.
Overall, health support groups have announced that tobacco and VAPE-related content on typical social media platforms has declined, but TikTok is not yet included.
Myers admits that Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids hasn’t done a comprehensive survey of TikTok because it’s a relatively new app. But concerns about TikTok continue to grow, according to what the group has observed so far.
“TikTok is full of the worst selling methods I’ve ever seen, such as hiring influencers and selling directly to young people who are attracted to TikTok. And TikTok is responsible for those actions. We haven’t seen any evidence of any action taken against it, “Mr. Myers continued.
It cannot be argued that TikTok was unaware of this issue.
When an in-app reporting system detected that a VAPE seller shamelessly advertised “no identification (ID) required,” TikTok’s content moderating team said, “This content violates TikTok’s guidelines. I haven’t. ” Similar action is taken when another VAPE seller is reported (see below).
TikTok argues that this should not happen. The company told TechCrunch that it would remove accounts with VAPE and e-cigarette content as soon as it was found and reset the profile of accounts that link to external tobacco and VAPE websites.
TikTok also states that the TikTok Community Guidelines ban content that suggests, portrays, mimics, or recommends the retention or consumption of tobacco by minors, or content on how to buy, sell, or exchange tobacco for minors. .. And the guidelines also do not allow tobacco advertising.
When asked for FDA comments on whether they were aware of this issue with TikTok, an FDA spokeswoman said they were not considering specific compliance or law enforcement measures.
However, the FDA said it will closely monitor retailers, manufacturers, importers and distributors for compliance with federal tobacco regulations and take corrective action in the event of a breach.
In addition, the FDA continued to constantly monitor and monitor tobacco labels, advertisements and other promotional activities, including those on the Internet.
To make things even more complicated, the FDA is accepting applications for marketing licenses for flavored VAPEs. It has not been announced whether it is a Puff Bar, another company, or which company is applying. In short, health support groups don’t know which products the FDA is considering to sell.
But the FDA will sell any product, regardless of whether or not it has submitted a license application, if the manufacturer “does not take appropriate steps to prevent young people from using the product.” I told TechCrunch that I wouldn’t allow it.
That would include selling at online Puff Bar retailers and Tick Tok.
The FDA earlier added that it took concrete action against the Puff Bar.
In July 2020, the FDA announced Cool Clouds, officially known as Cool Clouds Distribution, Inc. d /, for selling low-quality, mislabeled products that had not been licensed. It issues a warning to b / a Puff Bar).
In January 2021, the FDA and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized 33,681 boxes of e-cigarette-related products, including disposable flavored e-cigarette cartridges similar to the Puff Bar brand, such as the Puff XXL and Puff Flow. It is said that
TikTok confirmed that TechCrunch’s actions described in this article violated TikTok’s guidelines and policies, but didn’t explain why it wasn’t implemented despite the policies.
A TikTok spokeswoman told TechCrunch: “We are responsible for the safety and health of the TikTok community. We strictly prohibit the possession, consumption-inducing or depiction of underage tobacco and drag content. Promotion of VAPE products. We will exclude accounts that have been identified as being used for, and will not allow advertising for VAPE products. ”
Rachel Maga is a technology journalist currently working at Globe Live Media agency. She has been in the Technology Journalism field for over 5 years now. Her life’s biggest milestone is the inside tour of Tesla Industries, which was gifted to her by the legend Elon Musk himself.