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How vaping advertisers target young people 

What kids see that you don't

15 Sep 2023
Research and Publications
Person holds a phone with a social media image of a person vaping toward the camera with sunglasses on

VicHealth, in partnership with Quit, conducted research revealing the sneaky and unethical ways the vaping industry uses social media to promote and sell dangerous products to young Australians.

The research included two separate studies focusing on TikTok and Instagram. We used artificial intelligence (AI) and qualitative content analysis to identify billions of pro-vaping social media posts and user profiles on popular social media platforms TikTok and Instagram.

Key takeaways

  • Over 18 billion posts tagged with vaping-related hashtags.
  • Vape retailers are using TikTok and Instagram, exploiting their algorithms to reach more young people.
  • There is a trend towards vaping content that appears as non-promotional, but much of it is coming directly from vape retailers. 
  • Vape retailers promote through influencers popular with young people.
  • Vaping social media content encourages young people to explore vape flavours, presenting vaping as normal, sexy, funny or cool.
  • Vape stores have created content giving tips to young people on how to hide their vapes at school or at home.

How much vaping content is on social media? 

An icon of a phone with a speech bubble saying "#vape"

18.1 billion+

posts with the hashtag #vape on TikTok 

An icon of a phone with a speech bubble saying "#vapelife"

16.4 million+

posts tagged #VapeLife on Instagram

These numbers are increasing rapidly. From March to September this year, the number of posts appearing with the hashtag #vape increased by 3 billion.  

That’s like if more than a third of the world’s population used that hashtag once in the last 6 months. 


Since social media has no borders, international trends around vaping are easily consumed by Australian audiences and then copied – exposing young people to pro-vaping content. 

What’s more, many overseas vaping stores offer international shipping. 

Across both TikTok and Instagram, there is also content about vaping health harms, addiction, injury risk and environmental impacts – but this pales in comparison to the amount of content that promotes vaping.   


Hear from Doug, a parent of teenagers, on how he feels about the tactics vaping advertisers use to target young people



Which social media platforms are vape retailers using? 


Australian teens spend an average of 14.4 hours a week online 

eSafety Commissioner


 In Australia in 2022, more than half of TikTok's users were aged under 24



70% of teens (13-17 years) use Instagram 

eSafety Commissioner


Vape retailers primarily use TikTok and Instagram to target young people, because this is where they spend a lot of their time online.  

While our research focused on TikTok and Instagram, we know vaping retailers and influencers also post a high volume of promotional content on other social media platforms too. It’s difficult to accurately measure how much vaping content there really is, as not all posts and profiles use hashtags or explicitly mention vaping in the caption.  

Vape retailers exploit social media algorithms  

In our research for vaping-related hashtags and activity, we found TikTok to be miles ahead of Instagram. 

TikTok is based on a content or interest graph, meaning that the algorithm is more likely to show content based on interests – that is, posts and profiles you’ve engaged with before. By comparison, Instagram is based on a social graph, meaning it is more likely to show you content based on your connections and friends. 

Due to the content graph on TikTok, once someone starts consuming vaping content, they are likely to continue being served more vaping content. 

An icon showing a network - a large circle with smaller circles connected to it

Social graph connections are based on shared personal connections (i.e. friendships)

An icon showing a graph increasing

Interest graph connections are based on shared interests, regardless of connections


Retailers posing as everyday people


There is a trend of vaping content that appears as non-promotional, but much of it is coming directly from vape retailers.  

Many TikTok and Instagram accounts that post vaping content appear to be non-commercial, or created by everyday people, but clicking on the link in the profile takes users straight to an online e-cigarette store.    


By creating content which jumps on trends popular with young people, be it a pro-vaping or anti-vape trend, vaping suppliers play on this to attract attention and ultimately drive more traffic to their online stores.  


The rise of vaping 'influencers'

An icon of a phone with a magnifying glass over it


vaping profiles identified on Instagram

An icon of Australia showing profiles identified across the country


Australian vaping influencers detected on Instagram 


Our Instagram study identified over 18K vaping-related profiles around the world, and of the accounts which included location details, 9% of them were identified to be Australia-based (the highest % of all countries identified, followed by UK 4% and Iran 2%) .

The vaping industry isn’t using household names as influencers – they're playing on subcultures outside of the mainstream and choosing influencers popular with young people. While they’re not well-known by parents and teachers, some of these accounts have over 1 million followers and hold a strong influence over young people.

Particular influencer styles tend to target particular follower genders (e.g. disposables tend to be targeted to woman and youths, whereas sophisticated or rugged products are targeted at men). 

"I'm really concerned about the health impacts of vaping. I'm concerned that it's actually out there on social media - I don't see things on Instagram and TikTok because I'm not the target audience, but my children are.

Things are being marketed to my children and other children saying vaping's okay... No, it's not. It's harmful. It's terrible. "

Parent of teens


Humour, sex appeal, tricks and how to hide vapes 


Adolescence is a time where young people explore their identity and sometimes engage in risk-taking behaviours. The vaping industry is exploiting this by pushing social media content which encourages young people to explore vape flavours, presenting vaping as normal, sexy, funny or cool.  

Common themes include

Associating vape flavours with personal identities

Making fun of friends or associating well-known celebrities with specific flavours – most with youthful names like gummy bear, chocolate treat and cherry crush.

Using humour to make light of vaping

Poking fun at vaping in a school environment, vaping addiction and the apparent stupidity of adults when it comes to recognising vapes and e-cigarettes.

How to hide your vape

Promoting products designed to hide or ‘stash’ e-cigarettes from parents or teachers. 

Ease of access

Parodies showing how easy it is to buy vapes online or from physical stores in Australia. 

Vaping tips and tricks

How to do smoke/exhale tricks to impress peers.


What role do governments and social media sites play?


The vaping industry is continually evolving its marketing strategies – we support the Australian Government’s plan to extend and strengthen existing laws to protect the next generation from harmful messages which normalise vaping. 

This research clearly shows why the Federal Government's plan to stop the vaping industry from advertising and promoting vaping products to young people on social media is crucial. 

We also want to see the Federal Government put an end to the sale of e-cigarettes online.  


Social media sites also have a role to play. It’s time social media companies cracked down on hosting content which normalises and promotes vaping among young people. 

Read more about what the Federal Government is doing in the vaping space:


What can parents do? 


This issue of vaping and how the industry targets kids is extremely concerning, but it’s important not to jump to conclusions. This doesn’t mean your child is vaping, however it’s likely they’ve seen vaping content online. 

That’s why it’s important to read up on vaping to start an open and honest conversation. Check out our page to get some quick facts and tips on how to talk to your kids about vaping: 

Get the facts

Artwork by Dexx (Gunditjmara/Boon Wurrung) ‘Mobs Coming Together’ 2022
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VicHealth acknowledges the support of the Victorian Government.

Artwork Credit: Dexx (Gunditjmara/Boon Wurrung) ‘Mobs Coming Together’ 2022, acrylic on canvas. Learn more about this artwork.