The letter states that the platforms are allowing “aggressive advertising”. UK organisations that have put their names to this letter include:
- UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies
- Tobacco Control Research Group, University of Bath
- Scottish Thoracic Society
- Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh
- Fresh-Smoke Free North East
- Cancer Focus NI
- British Lung Foundation Scotland
- Action on Smoking and Health (ASH UK)
- ASH Scotland
- Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties in Scotland
“In light of recent reporting from Reuters on young social media influencers being used to market tobacco products, the undersigned organizations are writing to urge Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat to take swift action to curb the aggressive advertising of all tobacco products and e-cigarettes on your platforms – including cigarettes, e-cigarettes and the recently introduced heated cigarettes such as Philip Morris International’s IQOS.
Philip Morris International’s widespread network of social media influencers paid to advertise their heated cigarette IQOS was reported by Reuters on May 10, 2019. In an attempt to pre-empt negative media coverage of this marketing tactic, Philip Morris International announced it was suspending product-related digital influencer campaigns.
The announcement did not include suspending digital influencer campaigns promoting cigarettes or any of the other tactics well documented by public health experts. As of the date of this letter, the tobacco marketing campaigns undertaken by Philip Morris International for IQOS, which have been viewed millions of times on your platforms, remain viewable across Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.
But Philip Morris International isn’t the only tobacco company engaging in this behaviour, and past experience has shown we cannot rely on self-regulation by the tobacco industry to control their actions.
As first reported by the New York Times in August 2018, the public health community has documented extensive evidence that tobacco companies pay social media influencers to promote cigarettes on platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter in more than 40 countries around the world. And now, Philip Morris International is again using this strategy to market IQOS – a tobacco product the company claims is intended only for adult smokers.
Tobacco companies like Philip Morris International promote their products on social media because they know it is the gateway to young people all over the world. Indeed, the tobacco industry’s entire business model depends on addicting the next generation of tobacco users to its products.
According to social listening analysis, posts featuring content promoting IQOS with a paid or sponsored disclaimer have generated more than 28 million impressions on Twitter, alone, since 2017.
While Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat have advertising policies rightly prohibiting the promotion of tobacco products, the fact that these policies are not consistently applied to influencer content creates a loophole that is currently allowing rampant marketing of cigarettes, e-cigarettes and heated cigarettes like IQOS to young users on social media.”
The organisations demand: “Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter must do the following:
- Amend your content/ branded content policy to be consistent with your advertising policy banning the promotion of tobacco products, and to ensure that all tobacco products and e-cigarettes are included in this policy. Enacting this crucial change would prevent tobacco companies like Philip Morris International from paying social media influencers to use your platforms to promote harmful and addictive products, including IQOS.
- Enforce tobacco advertising policies. Immediately remove all content that promotes #IQOS or any tobacco product and features an explicit paid disclaimer.
- Suspend the accounts of frequent/repeat offenders. We have attached a list of handles that have repeatedly posted paid content promoting Philip Morris International’s tobacco products. While we can only report on the offenders caught in available social listening tools, we urge you to conduct your own investigation and suspend accounts of users that have violated your tobacco policy.
Some see this as the thin end of a wedge, as part of a move to restrict the dissemination of factual information to adult smokers and vapers. Others have noted that all of the so-called influencers are all adults using products designed and marketed to adults.
Dr. Moira Gilchrist wrote: “Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids thinks it's ‘laughable’ that social media might be helpful to get information about better alternatives to adults who smoke. What is laughable is the idea that adults don't use social media. I use it EVERY SINGLE DAY.”
Suck My Mod’s Matt commented: “My largest demographic on YouTube is 25-34.”