Reseach by Tobacco-Free Kids uncovered the world’s largest multinational tobacco companies were paying social media influencers all over the world to secretly advertise cigarettes online. Posts promoting cigarettes from Big Tobacco’s global network of infleuncers were viewed more than 25 billion times worldwide.
Where There's Smoke
How Big Tobacco Is Taking Over Social Media
Big Tobacco is Using Social Media to Addict the Next Generation
To get around advertising restrictions, the world’s largest tobacco companies have turned to social media to market tobacco and nicotine products to youth. From paid ads on Facebook and TikTok-tailored video content, to Twitter-friendly hashtags and financing high-profile influencers on Instagram, Big Tobacco has revamped its Marlboro Man playbook for the social media generation.
What began in early 2015 as a test case for marketing addictive products online has turned into a massive marketing channel for tobacco companies to reach young people. Their campaigns are slick and tailored to a variety of social media platforms – designed to seamlessly slip into your newsfeeds, For You pages and timelines. The goal? To hook new, young customers – for life.
Despite policies that prohibit social media marketing of tobacco and nicotine products, tobacco companies shifted their influencer strategy from a focus on cigarettes to heated cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, and oral nicotine products. Click to see the image gallery.
In addition to using influencers, tobacco companies have set up their own branded product pages that are country and brand specific, regularly updated with promotional content, staffed with brand representatives available for live chat, and direct visitors to online sales sites. Click for an example of a branded tobacco product page.
All social media companies prohibit the marketing of “tobacco products” but tobacco companies exploit loopholes enabling them to advertise heated cigarette devices and nicotine products that don’t contain tobacco. Click for recommended updates to social media platform policies.
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Marketing campaigns for Big Tobacco products often feature young influencers posing with products, at branded parties/events, and promoting contests/giveaways. Confidential interviews with influencers for tobacco products revealed influencers were trained on what brands to promote, when to post pictures for maximum exposure and how to take “natural photos” that do not look like staged advertisements.
In the News
Firms under fire for using UK influencers to push nicotine products.
New York Times publishes first expose on secret influencer marketing for popular cigarette brands. Legal complaints filed in Brazil & US to hold BAT, IB, JT, and PMI accountable. And the 8th session of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Conference of the Parties establishes an intersessional Working Group to develop guidelines on cross-border tobacco marketing, including advertising through social media.
Reuters exposes PMI’s use of young influencers forcing the company to voluntarily suspend its program. 100+ public health organizations call on social media companies to ban all tobacco/nicotine product marketing. Facebook updates policy to prohibit marketing tobacco product sales. UK Advertising Standards Authority ruled BAT must stop using any public Instagram account to promote e-cigarettes in the U.K. and orders the removal of advertisements for BAT’s e-cigarette Vype that were under investigation.
The UK Advertising Standards Authority rules that public Instagram accounts cannot be used to promote tobacco and e-cigarette products. SnapChat, Facebook, and Instagram update their policies to prohibit influencer promotion of tobacco-products and e-cigarettes.