FDA warns vaping companies about using social media ‘influencers’

U.S. regulators moved to discipline vaping companies for inappropriately promoting their flavored nicotine formulas through so-called influencers on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites.

The Food and Drug Administration sent warning letters Friday to four companies that used paid social media influencers to pitch nicotine solutions to their online followers, including flavors like Watermelon Patch and Strawberry Kiwi.

The posts didn’t include a mandatory warning that the vaping liquids contain nicotine, which is addictive. The FDA, joined by the Federal Trade Commission, sent the letters to Solace Vapor, Hype City Vapors, Humble Juice Co. and Artist Liquid Labs. The companies did not immediately return calls and emails seeking comment Friday morning.

Facebook prohibits e-cigarette ads even with warnings and the FTC has been pressuring influencers — people with many social media followers who promote products and services — to disclose when they are being paid to endorse something.

The action comes as the FDA and other government agencies struggle to reverse what they call an epidemic of underage e-cigarette use. Researchers have linked the trend to a surge in online videos, photos and other posts about vaping, some of them generated by companies, advertising agencies and paid influencers.

Government figures showed a nearly 80 percent jump in vaping by teens last year, with 1 in 5 high school students reported that they used the devices in the previous month.

E-cigarettes typically heat a flavored nicotine solution into an inhalable aerosol. They are largely viewed as less harmful than traditional paper-and-tobacco cigarettes and some adult smokers use them as an alternative source of nicotine. But health experts warn that nicotine can harm developing brains and recent research shows many teenagers are unaware they are consuming the addictive chemical when they vape.

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