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TikTok: Ground Zero for Vaping Sales to Kids
  • Posted May 23, 2024

TikTok: Ground Zero for Vaping Sales to Kids

TikTok is full of fun memes, pranks, dances and challenges -- and illicit vaping product sales targeting teenagers, a new study reports.

Advertising and sales of vaping products is common on the video-sharing platform, according to findings published May 23 in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research.

What's more, the users offering these items often use hashtags like #puffbundles to hide vaping products within packages also containing lip gloss and candy, the researchers added.

“Parents should be aware that children may be receiving e-cigarette products through the mail. These self-proclaimed small businesses are targeting youth by advertising that they don't check for identification,” said lead researcher Page Dobbs, an associate professor of public health with the University of Arkansas.

Even though vaping is prohibited among minors, an estimated 4.7 middle school and high school students reported using e-cigarettes in 2023. That's more than 1 in 6 middle- and high-schoolers.

This relatively high rate of vaping among teens led researchers to suspect that social media might be a means by which kids are obtaining e-cigarettes.

Nearly two-thirds of teenagers (63%) used TikTok in 2023, making it a natural place to look for illicit sales and advertising of vaping products, researchers said.

For the study, the team identified 475 English language TikTok Videos posted between July 2022 and August 2023 containing popular hashtags related to e-cigarettes like #puffbars, #geekbar and #elfbar.

The team then narrowed the hashtags to those specific to online sales of e-cigarettes, such as #discreetshipping, #puffbundle, and #hiddennic.

About 50% of the videos advertised popular vaping brands, and 45% included cannabis products, researchers found.

The videos directed customers to other social media platforms – most often Instagram (58%) – to use services like Telegram to purchase vaping products.

Vendors often evade restrictions on sales and advertising of vaping products to minors by creating what TikTok users tag as #puffbundles or #vapebundles, researchers found. These bundles include other products like candy, fake eyelashes and lip gloss, so the packages don't appear to contain vaping products at all

Nearly 29% of the products were described as “bundled,” about 9% indicated the products were “hidden,” and 6% touted international shipping as an option.

“If your child receives a bundle of candy or beauty products in the mail, check inside the packaging or inside the scrunchie with a zipper,” Dobbs said in a journal news release.

Nearly half (45%) of the videos posted about selling vaping products specifically advertised that they did not require age verification of the buyer, results show. None of the videos indicated customers needed to provide ID to purchase vaping products or accept a mailed package.

“Policymakers and enforcement agencies should be aware that these products are being shipped internationally, meaning people are circumventing tobacco laws in multiple countries,” Dobbs said.

More information

The American Lung Association has more about vaping and teens.

SOURCE: Oxford University Press, news release, May 23, 2024

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