Tobacco Companies are Marketing Addictive Nicotine Products on Social Media

Tobacco companies are exploiting policy loopholes on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter to market addictive and harmful nicotine pouches.

With an alarming increase in tobacco companies using social media platforms to advertise nicotine products to young people. It’s time for Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter to prohibit the marketing of addictive and largely unregulated, non-pharmaceutical oral nicotine products.

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Some of the world’s largest cigarette companies including Altria, British American Tobacco, Imperial Brands, and Japan Tobacco International have recently introduced their own nicotine pouch brands. These products are part of tobacco companies’ plan to both keep and addict new customers to nicotine.

Because Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter do not explicitly prohibit non-pharmaceutical oral nicotine product marketing, recent monitoring has found cigarette companies are not only using influencers to promote nicotine pouches, they are also using paid ad platforms to serve ads for nicotine pouch brands such as Velo, Lyft and Zyn. On Instagram alone, 77 influencers paid to share content promoting Velo have posted thousands of images advertising the nicotine pouch to an audience of more than 537 million people around the world. According to Klear, more than 40 percent of the audience viewing this influencer content promoting Velo is under the age of 24. Allowing the marketing of recreational products like nicotine pouches on social media platforms presents several public health and child safety concerns:

  1. Nicotine is addictive and its use has several known risks and adverse health consequences including: (a) Exposure to nicotine during adolescence can have lasting negative consequences for brain development and (b) There is substantial evidence that using nicotine in adolescence can increase the likelihood of nicotine addiction in adulthood, as well as future addiction to other drugs;
  2. Marketing campaigns for nicotine pouches target young audiences and feature misleading product information. Nicotine pouch marketing is currently leveraging established strategies the same companies have used to market cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and heated cigarettes including youth-friendly flavors, youthful imagery, and colorful packaging. The most visible nicotine pouch brands seen on social media are British American Tobacco’s “Lyft” and “Velo.” Marketing campaigns for these brands appear to target young audiences in low- and middle-income countries. Marketing content – both through paid advertising and influencers – often features young, high-profile influencers engaged in sports activities suggesting product use is compatible with a healthy, active lifestyle. In several instances, influencers are facilitating the sale of nicotine pouches on social media platforms by offering “promo codes” and other incentives toward the purchase of nicotine pouches;
  3. Marketing campaigns for nicotine pouches encourage using the product along with the use of other tobacco and nicotine products, the promotion of which are prohibited on all social media platforms. British American Tobacco, currently one of the most prolific users of social media to market their nicotine pouch brands, often uses language promoting poly-use of these products with content like: “Stuck by the socket? Waiting for your nicotine device to charge? VELO pouches are charge-free, so they won’t keep you waiting.” British American Tobacco’s own investor reports note nicotine pouches are being targeted to new users, not just smokers. British American Tobacco’s’s Velo is marketed on social media through paid influencer posts to promote the sensory effects of nicotine using slogans like “feeling the tingles!” and “[T]here will be a tingling sensation at first, which is normal: it means the nicotine is working”; and
  4. Many governments around the world seeking to protect youth and reduce nicotine addiction are regulating nicotine pouches. Governments are taking a variety of steps to regulate or ban these products including banning the sale or import of nicotine pouches (Germany, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, New Zealand, Russia and Singapore), regulating nicotine pouches as a poisonous substance (Australia, Hong Kong, Malaysia), regulating as tobacco products subject to tobacco control laws (South Korea, Uzbekistan), and regulating these products as pharmaceutical products requiring the relevant medical/therapeutic authorization for sale (Chile, Canada, Finland, Japan, Malaysia, South Africa and Taiwan).

Without swift action to close this loophole in Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter’s existing policies, tobacco companies will continue to undermine the progress these social media companies have made to ensure their platforms are free of tobacco company marketing that expose their most vulnerable community members to ads for addictive and toxic products.

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