FOX23 Investigates: Vitamin Vaping

WATCH Michelle Linn’s full investigation

FOX23 Investigates: Social Media's Secondhand Influences

TULSA, Okla. — A post across a 14-year-old girl’s Instagram feed recently showed a vape pen promoting wellness.

The girl is FOX23 Morning Anchor Michelle Linn’s daughter Hayden who is a competitive athlete and was intrigued by the product’s claims to promote energy and wellness by boosting B12.

FOX23 Anchor Michelle Linn's daughter Hayden.
FOX23 Anchor Michelle Linn's daughter Hayden. (FOX23)
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Tulsa pulmonologist Dr. Mark Boomer says Hayden wouldn’t likely notice an increase in energy because she’s not Vitamin B12 deficient -- but he is concerned about if she were to put any substance in her lungs.

“I think it introduces the process to kids who are athletes that would otherwise avoid it,” said Dr. Boomer

“The simple bottom line is lungs were designed to inhale air and all of these other things have the potential for damage.”

Michelle reached out to Instagram’s parent company Facebook in Decmeber to ask why the product Verve Vapor came across her daughter’s feed.

(Verve Vapor)

Instagram responded with the following statement:

"Hi Michelle,
Instagram
Thanks for sending over the screenshot of the account. It doesn’t look like @vervevapor has run a tobacco or tobacco-related ad per our internal investigation, but please see below for our policy on vaporizers and tobacco products.
Instagram
Background:
Instagram
• All ads on Facebook and Instagram must follow our Advertising Policies. We do not allow adverts that promote the sale or use of tobacco or tobacco-related products, including vaporiser devices and electronic cigarettes. More information can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/policies/ads/prohibited_content/tobacco
Instagram
• Every time an ad is created, before letting it go live, we evaluate every single one of its components (image, caption, landing page, etc.) and evaluate it against each of our policies. Ads which violate our policies will not be shown on Instagram.
Instagram
• People are allowed to post about tobacco or tobacco-related products, including vaporiser devices and electronic cigarettes, on Instagram.
Instagram
• Brands can request that an age restriction is applied to their account, and we are also working on a way for any account to put age restrictions on their account without contacting Instagram.
Instagram
• Earlier this year, we updated our policy to restrict all content that depicts the sale or purchase of tobacco products to 18+.
Instagram
• This is an important area, and one we are thinking a lot about in partnership with the wider industry and the appropriate regulatory bodies. We are looking at this closely to understand how we can improve.
Instagram

Two days later, the company an additional statement:

"Across the Facebook company, we are updating our policies to include clearer rules for the paid promotion of certain goods and services such as vaping, tobacco, alcohol and diet supplements.

Branded content that promotes goods such as vaping, tobacco products and weapons will not be allowed. Our advertising policies have long prohibited the advertisement of these products, and we will begin enforcement on this in the coming weeks."

After reaching out to Verve Vapor about their product Michelle the following response:

“Our personal inhalers are not intended for persons under 18 years of age. Although our products are safe and do not contain nicotine, we do not wish to encourage the hand-to-mouth habit that may lead to unhealthy habits, such as smoking. We have a company policy not to supply our products to minors.”

Both Facebook and Verve Vapor say the company has never run ads on Instagram and has never paid to promote a post.

A Verve Vapor spokesperson says the product likely showed up in Hayden’s feed because of Instagram’s algorithm

Instagram says the post showed up in her feed because someone she follows on the app engaged with Verve Vapor by liking, commenting, or posting about their product.

The Food and Drug Administration has strict advertising regulations when it comes to tobacco products, but manufacturers and distributors of dietary supplements do not need FDA approval.

“On background know that we have very strict advertising regulations and policies related to drugs (which is why you always hear that long list of side effects) and for tobacco products, but for other products that are used to deliver dietary supplements, including vitamins, the laws are much less strict. Manufacturers and distributors of dietary supplements do not need approval from the FDA before introducing their products to the market, and only some products are reviewed for safety. In fact, firms can often lawfully introduce dietary supplements to the market and advertise them without even notifying the FDA. As such, there is likely not a relevant law or regulation for this situation of advertising this supplement. Since this product is being advertised for delivering vitamin B-1 and L-theanine, a supplement that has been Generally Recognized as Safe, and is clearly marked as not for tobacco use, this would fall under supplement regulations. That said, if there is evidence that a product is causing adverse health effects or being misused, we do have the ability take action to protect the public health, which is a key element in our approach to protecting consumers.”
U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Verve Vapor’s website says its products do not contain nicotine or tobacco and they are 100 percent free of any drugs or controlled substances -- saying Verve Vapor is a “personal aromatherapy device, not close to your typical E-cigarette, and the devices are very low power, which means they don’t burn or overheat materials like many large devices can.”