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Following a digital trail, CNN attempted to expose JUUL Labs for attracting under-age vapers through social media interactions.

JUUL, which controls more than 70 percent of the U.S. e-cigarette market, downplayed CNN reporting on its role in creating advertising campaigns angled at first-generation vapers.

To build the story, CNN’s investigation started with a blogger and followed the digital dots.
Christina Zayas has been recognized as a popular web writer for the past decade and profited from posting pro-JUUL product propaganda.

“They really wanted to appeal to the younger market,” Zayas told CNN.

Helping to build its brand, JUUL invested in the services of an influencer marketing firm, which reached out in September 2017 and corralled Zayas’ nearly 60,000 Instagram followers.

“JUUL’s team reached out to me to work together,” Zayas said. “We came up with working on a sponsored post, which is just a blog post, and then one Instagram post. Their budget was, ‘OK, we can offer you $1,000.’ ”

Considering just five percent of Zayas’ followers fall into the 13- to 17-year-old market, the financial math worked for JUUL, which wanted to seed lifetime customers.

Dr. Robert Jackler, a Stanford University researcher, has been analyzing the JUUL marketing strategy for the past three years. He detected an early trend. The teenage market is loaded with susceptible consumers.

“They advertised exactly where young people live,” Jackler said in an interview with CNN. “Young people today are on social media. They’re on their phones continuously throughout the day, looking at social media channels.”

JUUL, which sold 35 percent of the company Dec. 20 to tobacco-giant Altria for $12.8 billion, declined an interview request from CNN. The company, however, did confirm it paid “fewer than 10 influencers who are at least 28 years old, who were all smokers or former smokers and who were collectively paid less than $10,000.”

JUUL attempted to distance itself from contracting social media influencers, but CNN followed the digital dots and linked its significant influence on the nation’s youth.

So much so, Jackler said even if JUUL was taken out of the equation, teen vaping is a “fad and it’s taken on a life of its own.”

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