The actions of tobacco companies flooding social media with cigarette images may be the single greatest threat to youth perception of tobacco use worldwide today
E-cigarette use by youth presents serious concerns as the use of nicotine in any form is unsafe, causes addiction and can harm adolescent brain development
India’s Government announced on September 18 that it would ban the sale, manufacture, import and advertising of e-cigarettes nationwide as part of a bold effort to protect youth from the risk of nicotine addiction.
Tobacco companies like Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco justify their new heated cigarettes including IQOS and Glo with claims that they were only targeting current smokers. Yet, time and again, tobacco companies have been found to be marketing their products in ways that reach youth and non-smokers. E-cigarettes like Juul – a company partly-owned by Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris USA – are being used by youth at epidemic levels. Juul is a discreet device that looks like a USB drive and vaporises a liquid that contains nicotine salts through e-liquid ‘pods.’ Each pod contains as much nicotine as at least one pack of cigarettes and its nicotine salts are absorbed into the body at almost the same speed as nicotine in regular cigarettes, which is why officials worry Juul may be more addictive than other e-cigarettes.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids of Washington, multi-year investigation has documented deceptive online advertising originating in more than 40 countries
Although the company has repeatedly stated that it’s in the business of helping adult smokers to quit, Juul’s early marketing campaign – blasted out through social media often featuring youth influencers and young people partying – tells a different story.
The companies are placing brands of these experimental products on race cars and hiring popular influencers to post about these products on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Content from these influencers can be viewed by anyone worldwide, and this strategy mirrors similar tactics used to promote traditional cigarettes on social media. The tobacco industry is using social media to reach an even wider unlimited audience of all ages to promote their brands and re-normalise tobacco use. Public health authorities largely agree exposure to tobacco product marketing causes youth to start and keep using tobacco. The actions of tobacco companies flooding social media with cigarette images may be the single greatest threat to youth perception of tobacco use worldwide today.
Evidence from more than 40 countries reveals how the tobacco industry deceptively uses social media channels to promote tobacco use and smoking to a near unlimited audience of young people. Extensive evidence and anonymous interviews with social influencers – individuals with large followings who promote specific brands or products on social media platforms – describe how respondents use social influencers around the world to flood social media with paid advertisements for tobacco without disclosing the content has been financed by the tobacco industry as part of a larger marketing strategy for tobacco products.
The industry is heavily advertising cigarettes online with hundreds of thousands of images, hash-tags and video uploaded to social media networks such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter by young people. These young influencers paid to promote are explicitly instructed on what cigarettes to promote, when to post content for maximum exposure and how to take natural photos that do not look like a staged advertisement for cigarettes.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids of Washington, multi-year investigation has documented deceptive online advertising originating in more than 40 countries and the study showed that social media content on just 100 tobacco brands reached more than 25 million people worldwide in over 40 countries. Now, governments have launched investigations into this tactic in the United States, the United Kingdom, Braziland Colombia.
Although tobacco companies are focused wholeheartedly on addicting the next generation to their deadly array of nicotine products, governments are fighting back. Earlier this year, the Constitutional Court in Uganda issued a resounding rejection of British American Tobacco’s legal challenge of the country’s tobacco control law that included life-saving provisions like making indoor places free of tobacco smoke and placing large pictorial health warnings on tobacco packs.
In Brazil, the government has filed a lawsuit against British American Tobacco and Philip Morris International and their Brazilian subsidiaries to recover the tremendous costs their products have cost the Brazilian healthcare system. In the UK, the Serious Fraud Office is investigating British American Tobacco for efforts to bribe lawmakers in Africa. Ethiopia recently adopted a comprehensive tobacco control law and both Uruguay and Canada have adopted plain tobacco packaging, removing misleading branding from tobacco packs.
To end the global tobacco epidemic and truly create a smoke-free future, we need strong action by governments, not empty promises from tobacco companies. Governments around the world should see to tobacco companies’ efforts to appear concerned with health and pass and implement the evidence-based policies called for by the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Without urgent action, tobacco will claim one billion lives this century.
The rapid introduction of e-cigarettes in countries around the world poses new challenges to governments dedicated to protecting youth and reducing tobacco use. E-cigarette use by youth presents serious concerns as the use of nicotine in any form is unsafe, causes addiction and can harm adolescent brain development.
In the United States, e-cigarette use has soared to epidemic levels thanks to the marketing tactics of companies like Juul and the widespread availability of e-cigarette flavours like mango, mint and bubblegum. From social media influencers to celebrity endorsements, the marketing tactics of e-cigarette makers are straight from the playbook of Big Tobacco. These tactics are exposing an entirely new generation of youth to addictive products and threaten to undo decades of progress in curbing tobacco use.
Governments around the world cannot wait to take action on e-cigarettes. All countries must take effective action to prevent e-cigarette use among young people and keep these products from undermining global efforts to drive down tobacco use.
Source: Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids - Washington DC