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Tobacco Industry Ads Generate Billions Of Views And Reach Millions of Kids on Instagram, Facebook, X And TikTok

New Report Details How Philip Morris International And British American Tobacco Reach Young People On Social Media

Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco, two of the world’s largest publicly traded tobacco companies, are advertising tobacco and nicotine products to kids on social media, according to a new report released Dec. 8 by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

The report, #SponsoredbyBigTobacco, details how the two tobacco giants have targeted more than 60 countries with expansive marketing campaigns for Velo, a nicotine pouch from British American Tobacco, Vuse, an e-cigarette from British American Tobacco, and IQOS, a heated tobacco product from Philip Morris International. Forty percent of the audience engaging with BAT and Philip Morris marketing content on social media are young people under the age of 25, according to the report.

Content promoting Velo, Vuse and IQOS has been viewed more than 3.4 billion times across Facebook, Instagram, X (formerly Twitter) and TikTok, with content primarily appearing on Instagram. Social media marketing for these three brands has been viewed by more than 385 million people, including 150 million young people and 16 million teens under the age of 18, according to the report.

The report reveals a variety of tactics used by the two global tobacco companies to reach young people online. These tactics include direct product marketing from popular Instagram accounts run by tobacco companies, paid advertising, contests and sport and music sponsorships.

According to the report, tobacco companies also leverage a vast network of influencers and content creators to market their brands online, in direct violation of Facebook and Instagram policies. To maximize reach, impressions and a perception of authenticity, tobacco companies use a mix of influencers – from micro influencers with around 1,000 followers to well-known celebrities with millions of followers. Tobacco companies also seek out influencers with a variety of interests to post about trending topics and reach an expansive audience of young people who would otherwise not see tobacco or nicotine content on social media.

Additional findings include:

Most influencers (37 percent) promoting content for tobacco companies are “creatives” like musicians, DJs, actors or artists, followed by “fashion” creators (30 percent). Tobacco and nicotine products are also promoted by “lifestyle” creators (25 percent) and “sports” creators (eight percent).

In direct violation of Facebook and Instagram’s advertising policies, tobacco companies use paid advertisements to reach young people on these platforms.

Tobacco companies leverage sponsorships with major brands on social media to create an immersive “surround sound” marketing effect. The report documents relationships with McLaren, Formula 1, Tomorrowland – one of the most popular music festivals in the world – and Spotify.

“The findings of this report make it crystal clear: Big Tobacco is going all-in to target youth on social media and it has to stop,” said Yolonda C. Richardson, president and CEO of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “Tobacco companies are among the most sophisticated advertisers in the world – marketing that reaches millions of kids does not happen by accident. Governments need to urgently address tobacco marketing online and ensure that social media companies are held legally accountable for the tobacco and nicotine marketing appearing on these platforms.”

Instagram and Facebook, now Meta, announced in 2019 that they would ban influencers from promoting e-cigarettes and other tobacco products. The ban has been largely ignored by tobacco companies and is not enforced by Meta, according to the report.

In February, 183 Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control will meet in Panama, where governments will consider adopting specific guidelines on cross-border digital advertising, including on social media. If adopted, these guidelines will help countries to more effectively ban cross-border advertisements for tobacco and nicotine products, including on social media.


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