Background While national surveys showed declines in e-cigarette use in the USA between 2015 and 2016, recent reports indicate that JUUL, a sleekly designed e-cigarette that looks like a USB drive, is increasingly being used by youth and young adults. However, the extent of JUUL’s growth and its marketing strategy have not been systematically examined.
Methods A variety of data sources were used to examine JUUL retail sales in the USA and its marketing and promotion. Retail store scanner data were used to capture the retail sales of JUUL and other major e-cigarette brands for the period 2011–2017. A list of JUUL-related keywords was used to identify JUUL-related tweets on Twitter; to identify JUUL-related posts, hashtags and accounts on Instagram and to identify JUUL-related videos on YouTube.
Results In the short 3-year period 2015–2017, JUUL has transformed from a little-known brand with minimum sales into the largest retail e-cigarette brand in the USA, lifting sales of the entire e-cigarette category. Its US$150 million retail sales in the last quarter of 2017 accounted for about 40% of e-cigarette retail market share. While marketing expenditures for JUUL were moderate, the sales growth of JUUL was accompanied by a variety of innovative, engaging and wide-reaching campaigns on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, conducted by JUUL and its affiliated marketers.
Conclusions The discrepancies between e-cigarette sales data and the prevalence of e-cigarette use from surveys highlight the challenges in tracking and understanding the use of new and emerging tobacco products. In a rapidly changing media environment, where successful and influential marketing campaigns can be conducted on social media at little cost, marketing expenditures alone may not fully capture the influence, reach and engagement of tobacco marketing.
- advertising and promotion
- electronic nicotine delivery devices
- social marketing
- surveillance and monitoring
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Contributors JH and SLE designed the study. JH, ZD, JK, SB, LEV, YK and GS collected data and conducted data analysis. JH wrote the first draft; the final version of this paper has been reviewed and approved by all coauthors.
Funding The study is supported, in part, by an NIH-funded grant (R01CA194681, PI Jidong Huang).
Disclaimer The funding agencies played no role in study design, in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data, in the writing of the report and in the decision to submit the article for publication. The content in this paper is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the sponsors.
Competing interests None declared.
Patient consent Not required.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.