How Healthcare Marketers Can Combat the Teen Vaping Crisis

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As teen e-cigarette use hits alarming rates, medical marketers can combat the popularity of vaping through targeted digital marketing strategies.  

Though e-cigarettes are supposedly intended to provide a less dangerous alternative to cigarettes for adult smokers, they have become highly popular among young people. By 2018, 3.62 million middle and high schoolers reported currently smoking e-cigarettes, enough that regulators and public health whistleblowers alike have deemed teen e-cigarette use an epidemic.   

This absence of pre-existing nicotine dependency among youth who are now addicted to e-cigarettes has led researchers to investigate e-cigarette marketing. E-cigarette giant Juul has been under particular scrutiny for its marketing practices, and the resounding consensus delivered by the Stanford Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising reads that their early campaigns were “patently youth-oriented.”

Juul has rolled out efforts to backtrack from the youth market by deleting its social media accounts and halting the sale of its flavored e-liquid pods by retailers, but unfortunately this doesn’t solve the problem. Instead, Juul has seemingly set off a self-perpetuating marketing machine.

As reported by the New York Times, a spokeswoman for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids summarized the longevity of Juul’s efforts: “Now that it has captured 75 percent of the e-cigarette market, Juul no longer needs to do social media marketing because its young customers are doing it for them.”

In this landscape, it is more important than ever to use strategic digital marketing campaigns to combat the social media presence that e-cigarettes have, especially as this online influence has gotten out of industry players’ hands and into teens’.

Battling E-Cigarette Appeal with Digital Marketing

Knowing how teens use the internet can help medical professionals intercept misinformed or under-informed youth who use e-cigarettes or are curious about them. Using the same marketing tools that popularized e-cigarettes, public health advocates can get the attention of teenagers and, hopefully, convince them to seek help to quit using their ENDS device or, better yet, never try one at all.

If you are trying to sway teens who are seeking e-cigarettes, you already know that your content is the opposite of what they’re searching for — you are publishing the risks, not providing the reward. In order to meaningfully connect with teen e-cigarette smokers and help people you otherwise would not reach, you cannot expect users to find your information organically. You thus have to target your marketing efforts around consumers (teenagers) looking for a product (e-cigarettes), not the medical and health-conscious community that’s already in your audience.

To get the attention of teens flocking to search engines in pursuit of Juuls, you need to rank highly on SERPs, or search engine results pages, so that they encounter your content. Apply SEO best practices to ensure that search engines recognize your content as significant and make it visible by continually increasing its ranking.

This means using keywords intelligently, not just including as many as you can. Think about the way search engine users actually frame their question, and use these terms to identify long tail keywords. Implement these throughout your page, and make sure your content titles are keyword-rich (particularly near the top of the text and in your headings).  

It’s important to engineer a mobile-friendly website, as well. Most people — especially teens who have had technology for as long as they can remember — have little patience for pages that glitch or take too long to load. Furthermore, 40 percent of web users say they will click out of a page that takes over three seconds to load. Plus, a high bounce rate will affect your SERP standing.

Combatting Juuling on Social Media

Many teens won’t be actively searching for ENDS-related content, but they’ll be exposed, by no action of their own, to influential posts on social media. Paid social media advertising can put your posts in their feeds to fight the prevalence of subliminal and overt pro-Juul content that they see.

Most social media platforms relevant to teens — including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter — allow you to target specific demographics. This is incredibly useful for medical professionals who want to spread health information. Paid campaigns can be tailored to the customer segment you’ve chosen — in this case, users 13 to 19 years old whose behavioral history and demonstrated interests on the platform suggest they might use e-cigarettes.

To direct teens to relevant PSAs and important resources on your page, you’ll want to make sure that paid social media advertisements and paid search campaigns lead to a dedicated landing page. If they arrive at a general landing page with no clear link to e-cigarette content, they’ll quickly leave your site. Getting a teenager to your website won’t educate them about the perils of e-cigarettes unless you can convince them to stick around, so design landing pages that are simple, easy to understand, and topical.

Enlisting Parents

One of the best ways to reach teens struggling with Juul use is to target their parents with information about how these products work and how to help teens quit. Use search and social media ads to guide parents to educational resources about quitting vaping, and encourage them to reach out for professional guidance. For example, your ad campaign could link to a brochure on talking to teens about smoking and vaping, and offer parents the chance to sign up for an anti-vaping newsletter from your medical practice.

While the rising numbers of young e-cigarette users is disheartening, medical professionals have more digital tools at their disposal than ever before. With compelling content, high-quality research, and a well-conceived marketing strategy, medical marketers can protect more teens from the dangers of e-cigarette use.

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