How Tobacco Companies Are Talking to Kids

For decades tobacco companies have hooked generations of Americans with their deadly and addictive products. They advertised in magazines and movies — and plastered logos on the sides of race cars.

Today, it’s a completely different world — and tobacco companies are using social media to connect with teens. The fact is, despite advertising restrictions, tobacco and vape companies are actively luring young customers. Here’s how.

vaping on social media

The Power of Influence

Social media has become a main source for Big Tobacco to reach young people. According to this Stanford study, young people who were exposed to posts that discussed vaping in a positive light said they were more likely to use vapes in the future. As kids spend more time on social media, researchers fear that vaping may become normalized. That’s exactly what’s happening to kids on TikTok.

vape advertising

TikTok Targeting

Influencers and vape sellers are storming the feeds of millions of teenage TikTok users.  This platform is one of the fastest-growing social media apps in the US, with around 100 million active users. Teens account for 32.5% of active users and a third of that group is 14 or under. With this many young users, vape sellers see a prime opportunity to turn a quick buck.

By using TikTok to showcase how they hide their vapes inside everyday items, vape sellers assure their underage clients that they can get away with it. Sellers do this by carefully packing vaping products into boxes of candy and, as one video shows, fuzzy pink slippers. TikTok sellers often lead buyers to websites with one-click age consent — or no age confirmation at all.

According to TikTok’s user policy, marketing tobacco products to underage users is prohibited. However, as this article points out, their enforcement has been lackluster, at best.

By leveraging TikTok’s content-creation platform, influencers are able to glamorize vape use in ways that entice underage users. Their reach is immense — and by using hashtags like #juul, #puffbar, #njoy and #vuse, they have racked up hundreds of millions of views. Plus, many of these posts have other popular hashtags, like #kids. This means underage TikTok users are exposed to vape content without seeking it out.


Vapes are a problem offline, too.

Recently, five different vape shops in Tulsa, OK, were cited for selling to minors. According to the Alcoholic Beverage Law Enforcement (ABLE) commission, 57% of vape shops in the Tulsa area sold vapes to the undercover minor. This isn’t an isolated problem.

The tobacco industry spends more than $172 million marketing to Oklahomans each year, and they meticulously market their products in ways that appeal to kids. They tweak colors, logos and imagery until these elements are irresistibly enticing.

In addition to social media marketing, each time our kids step into a convenience store, they are exposed to the powerful propaganda of Big Tobacco.

Tobacco Stops With Me

Millions of people have died as a result of Big Tobacco’s addictive products. Many of these people were targeted as children. Now, with the youth vaping epidemic, tobacco companies are attempting to ensnare a new generation with dangerous, addictive products. Where does it end?

Join the fight to stop Big Tobacco. Sign up for the Tobacco Stops With Me newsletter. Stay updated on the latest tobacco products, marketing campaigns, tips for talking to your kids and more. Together, we can end the scourge of Big Tobacco.

Published by Tobacco Stops With Me on March 29, 2021