Labeling paid ‘influencer’ vaping posts as ads draws attention

Social media influencers vaping glamorously into their social media feeds are often not doing so for free. And new research suggests that calling out their pay-to-play posts as advertisements in a plain, obvious way might have an impact on young people.

A study of 200 teens and young adults used eye-tracking technology to determine that tagging vaping-related influencer Instagram posts with #ad or #sponsored was effective in grabbing attention. The study appears online in the Journal of Health Communication.

“The e-cigarette industry is paying these social media celebrities to do what they do best — shape young people’s behavior. And our study gives us some hope that placing labels on these posts might be an effective tool to discourage young people from picking up a harmful habit,” said Liz Klein, the study’s lead author and an associate professor of health behavior and health promotion at The Ohio State University.

Liz Klein“These people are called ‘influencers’ for a reason. They get an amazing amount of attention, particularly from teens and young adults, and when they post about e-cigarettes they typically make zero reference to the fact they’ve been paid by the industry to make these posts,” she said.

Industry-backed social media activity is considered commercial sponsorship and technically should come with a disclosure in order to comply with Federal Trade Commission regulations, Klein said. And since the study was done, Instagram and Facebook have banned paid influencer posts that promote vaping and other tobacco use on their platforms.

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