A new study conducted by a researcher at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, announced that her findings that social media influencers are directly tied to the rise in e-cigarette use among young people.
The study involved 200 teens and young adults, tracked with eye-tracking technology, to determine that a vaping-related influencer on Instagram who posts “#ad” or “#sponsored” was an effective measure in grabbing their attention.
Liz Klein, an associate professor of health behavior and health promotion at Ohio State, published the study’s findings in the academic Journal of Health Communication.
In a press release, Klein said that the vaping industry is a negative ploy against youth’s health — and whether the youth is subject to being won over by social media marketing.
“The e-cigarette industry is paying these social media celebrities to do what they do best — shape young people’s behavior,” Klein said. “And our study gives us some hope that placing labels on these posts might be an effective tool to discourage young people from picking up a harmful habit.”
“These people are called ‘influencers’ for a reason. They get an amazing amount of attention, particularly from teens and young adults. When they post about e-cigarettes, they typically make zero reference to the fact they’ve been paid by the industry to make these posts,” she added.
Klein and the other authors of the study argue that social media influencers are a problem as it pertains to the social marketing of harmful products like e-cigarettes.
However, the authors of the study’s central recommendation is to prohibit the entire practice as it relates to harmful products, regardless of whether it’s a tobacco or alcoholic product.
Outside of the theoretical realm of the study, the vaping industry has made major advances in self-regulating social media accounts and influencer marketing. The benchmark case of social media influencing gone wrong is Juul Lab’s cringe-worthy “#Vaporized” campaign throughout the summer and fall of 2015.
Since the private sector has set the standard for regulation of social media marketing, the public health research vertical — especially as it’s reflected in this study — completely discounts the industry’s contributions for product marketing regulation.
A new round of research related to social media influencer marketing within the vaping industry is expected to be released over the next three months.
Research is expected to come from Stanford University, the University of California, San Francisco, University College London, and the Truth Initiative.