This move comes after months of innumerable reports about the potentially deadly effects of vaping.

By Faith Brar
December 20, 2019

Instagram is trying to make its platform a safer place for everyone. On Wednesday, the Facebook-owned social media channel announced that it will soon begin banning influencers from sharing any "branded content" that promotes vaping and tobacco products.

In case you're unfamiliar with the term, Instagram describes "branded content" as "a creator or publisher's content that features or is influenced by a business partner for an exchange of value". Translation: when someone is being paid by a business to share a certain piece of content (in this case, a post featuring vaping or tobacco products). These posts are hard to miss while scrolling through your feed. They'll usually say "Paid partnership with 'x company's name'" up top, underneath the user's Instagram handle.

This crackdown isn't exactly unprecedented. In fact, Instagram and Facebook both already ban the advertisement of vaping and tobacco products on their platforms. But until now, companies were still allowed to pay influencers to promote these products. "Our advertising policies have long prohibited the advertisement of these products, and we will begin enforcement on this in the coming weeks," the social media platform said in a statement. (Related: What Is Juul and Is It Any Better Than Smoking?)

Why is Instagram cracking down now?

Though Instagram didn't specify a reason for the new policies in its announcement, the platform's decision was likely influenced by the numerous reports that have labeled vaping as a nationwide health crisis. Just this week, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that the number of vaping-related illnesses has risen to a nationwide total of over 2,500 cases and 54 confirmed deaths.

Doctors and health officials around the globe continue to warn people about just how dangerous these products can be. As Bruce Santiago, L.M.H.C., mental health counselor and clinical director of Niznik Behavioral Health, previously told us: "Vapes contain harmful substances such as diacetyl (a chemical linked to serious lung disease), cancer-causing chemicals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead." (Even more worrisome: Some people don't even realize that their e-cig or vape contains nicotine.)

On top of that, vaping products have also been linked to increased risk of heart disease and stroke, stunted brain development, atrial fibrillation (an irregular heartbeat that can lead to heart-related complications), and addiction.

Teens, in particular, are the biggest population to be impacted by these products, with nearly half of high schoolers having reported vaping in the past year, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). (Related: Juul Launched a New Smart E-Cigarette—But It's Not a Solution to Teen Vaping)

Many anti-smoking advocates have blamed these skyrocketing rates of vaping among young people on the industry's advertising practices, especially on social media. Now, they're applauding Instagram for taking action and changing the rules.

"It is imperative that Facebook and Instagram not only swiftly enact these policy changes but also see that they are strictly enforced," Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told Reuters. "Tobacco companies have spent decades targeting kids—social media companies must not be complicit in this strategy." (Related: How to Quit Juul, and Why It's So Damn Hard)

In addition to banning posts promoting vaping products, Instagram's new branded content policy will also implement "special restrictions" on the promotion of alcohol and diet supplements. "These policies will go into effect next year as we continue to improve our tools and detections," the platform shared in a statement. "For example, we are currently building specific tools to help creators comply with these new policies, including the ability to restrict who can see their content, based on age."

These new guidelines will complement Instagram's existing policy on the promotion of weight-loss products. In September, the platform announced that posts promoting the "use of certain weight-loss products or cosmetic procedures and those that have an incentive to buy or include a price," will only be shown to users over 18, according to CNN. Plus, any content that includes "miraculous" claims about certain diet or weight-loss products, and is linked to offers like discount codes, will no longer be allowed on the platform, per this policy.

Actress Jameela Jamil, who has consistently stood up against the promotion of these products, assisted in creating these rules along with several youth specialists and experts like Ysabel Gerrard, Ph.D., a lecturer in digital media and society at the University of Sheffield.

All of these policies have been a long time coming. It's no doubt refreshing to see Instagram do their part in protecting young, impressionable people from potentially harmful content. But in an interview with Elle UK about her work with Instagram to develop stricter policies on weight-loss product promotion, Jamil made an important point about the responsibility that lies with consumers to be wary of their own health and well-being when using social media: "Curate your space. Just like as in your personal life, you have to do that online," Jamil told the publication. "You have the power; we've become used to thinking we have to follow these people who lie to us, don't care about us or our physical or mental health, they just want our money."

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