The world’s largest tobacco companies - British American Tobacco, Imperial Brands, Japan Tobacco, and Philip Morris International - are targeting kids on social media, at points of sale (like kiosks, grocery and convenience stores, and mobile vendors), and through strategic sponsorships. The industry has even called kids “replacement smokers” for those killed by tobacco use.
That’s because kids are more susceptible to cigarette advertising and marketing than adults. The vast majority of all smokers begin their addictive habit before they reach age 18, and almost nobody tries smoking for the first time after 18. In other words, if large numbers of kids did not try smoking and go on to become regular users, the tobacco companies eventually would not have enough adult customers to make staying in business worthwhile.
Investigations around the world have revealed disturbing patterns of Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International, and Imperial Brands using marketing tactics to target youth:
- In 40 countries, data collected at points of sale almost exclusively near primary and secondary schools found tobacco product displays at the eye level of a child (1 meter high), special advertising and promotions, tobacco products and e-cigarettes designed to appeal to youth (like flavored tobacco), and tobacco products and e-cigarettes positioned near products like candy and sweets.
- Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International and Imperial Brands are subverting tobacco advertising laws, flying under the radar of government regulators and abusing the policies of social media platforms to market tobacco products and e-cigarettes to youth. Tobacco companies and their marketing firms engage popular social media influencers to help promote cigarettes and other tobacco products to their social media communities. The influencers’ posts are designed to appear authentic, but are actually carefully composed to advertise cigarettes. Most recently, tobacco and e-cigarette companies have been found promoting their products as branded pages on Facebook and Instagram.
- British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco, Imperial Brands and Philip Morris International also host trendy cigarette themed parties all over the world. When party-goers post photos from the events on social media, big tobacco’s digital footprint expands exponentially. The parties are designed to promote cigarette brands and generate significant social media content to ensure maximum visibility for brands like Marlboro and Lucky Strike.
- Tobacco companies sponsor events and activities to promote the use of tobacco to their target customers/consumers. When sponsorship is not included in tobacco advertising bans, the industry uses sponsorships to advertise their products often without the requirement of accompanying health warnings.
We must protect our kids from Big Tobacco’s efforts to lure them into a lifetime of addiction and disease.
Governments can protect the next generation by enacting and enforcing policies mandated by the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to protect kids from the aggressive marketing tactics of tobacco companies.