New York Fashion Week is a semi-annual cultural phenomenon, bringing countless designers, models, influencers, stylists, and editors to the Big Apple. Fashion enthusiasts tune in globally to get a glimpse of the season’s latest trends — making it the perfect Instagram-able setting for those hoping to tap into this vast, fixated audience. With more than 53% of young adults using Instagram as their primary social media platform, and more than 180 million daily active Snapchat users, this event has a major influence on what people, especially youth, see as fashionable.
But it’s not all about the hottest hairstyles, apparel, and jewelry. New research published in “Social Media + Society” suggests that the growing popularity of “smoking selfies” — photos posted on social media of people smoking — may counteract progress in changing attitudes about tobacco and decreasing the smoking rate among youth by normalizing its use. And it’s not just cigarettes. With the rise of popular vaping devices such as JUUL, these new products are starting to be seen as fashion accessories and part of today’s pop culture.
Truth Initiative, a national public health organization that is inspiring tobacco-free lives and building a culture where all youth and young adults reject tobacco, is calling out the unsettling rise of “smoking selfies” in hopes of keeping both cigarettes and vaping products away from the fashion scene and off the runway this week.
These images have a powerful impact — even if unintentional. In a recent photoshoot with “GQ,” Pete Davidson clutches a JUUL in one of the shots. With Davidson’s increasing popularity and celebrity status, this photo with a JUUL in a prominent magazine could have a silent impact on the fashion decisions readers make. With a sleek, high-tech look, color options such as blush gold, and appealing flavors like cool mint and tart mango, it’s easy to understand why JUUL seems like another hot item coming out of Fashion Week.
Further, these images provide vaping companies with unpaid advertising and could potentially recruit more young users and, ultimately, smokers. Young adults who use e-cigarettes are more than four times as likely to begin smoking cigarettes as their non-vaping peers. Unlike any other hot fashion trend, JUUL is one that may lead to a lifetime of nicotine addiction.
One of the most jarring facts pulled straight from JUUL’s website is that the nicotine in one standard cartridge of JUUL roughly equals the nicotine of a pack of cigarettes — that’s 20 smokes.
JUUL claims that it markets its products as “only for adults” — but continues to dupe JUUL’s young consumers. The company claims to have had no idea that it would track so well among kids, yet JUUL has amassed a huge following among young users. There’s also limited government regulation of JUUL and no socially responsible advertising that makes clear its detrimental effects on vapers’ health and well-being. So, kids enthusiastically partake, none the wiser.
A social media presence is nothing new for products like JUUL or even Big Tobacco. Until recently, JUUL’s social media platforms used young models to promote its product, but after backlash, it announced a shift to adult testimonials. This is similar to tactics used by Big Tobacco, which was recently found to be secretly using social media to promote smoking. According to an investigation led by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, brand giants Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International, and Imperial Brands are using social media influencers in more than 40 countries to promote tobacco use without disclosing payment.
So, what happens when JUUL loses popularity? When vaping products such as JUUL are no longer seen as cool, young people who used them could be left with addictions to nicotine.
And there is nothing glamorous or cool about that.