Introduction: With the growing popularity of refillable e-cigarettes and recent FDA regulatory action on e-liquid warning labels, e-liquids are an increasingly important area of study. At present, however, little is known about how e-liquids are marketed. This study examined e-liquid marketing on the visual social media platform Instagram, on which users have created significant amounts of e-cigarette related content.
Methods: A systematic, random sample of Instagram posts with either #eliquid or #ejuice was collected from the Instagram API during one week in May 2017 and in October 2017 using the Netlytic application. A final sample of 1000 posts was analyzed using qualitative content analysis to discern e-liquid themes, claims, promotions, and products promoted.
Results: Of the 1000 posts, 61.1% promoted e-liquid. These posts were most frequently made by vape shops and ambassadors/representatives. Almost 80% of promotional posts featured a flavored e-liquid. Posts focused largely on e-liquids tasting good (35.4%) or being cool/edgy (19.0%). Many posts made use of Instagram's visual nature to share creative label designs. Just over a third of posts made some claim about e-liquid benefits or quality, with smokeless tobacco claims being most common. Although posts most commonly originated from the United States, posts made from Indonesia and the United Kingdom were also common.
Conclusions: E-liquid marketing on Instagram emphasizes positive experiences, personalization, and aspirational identities rather than explicit health and cessation claims. Appeal to youth is a significant concern based both on marketing strategies and the demographics of Instagram users.
Keywords: E-cigarettes; E-liquid; Instagram; Marketing; Social media.
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