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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2618

Targeting Youth through social media

By Manjari Peiris

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids of Washington and other organizations recently called on the tech companies to revise their policies around the marketing of cigarettes and related products on their platforms. They cited a Reuters report exposing Philip Morris International Inc's use of young and attractive models and personalities to promote its tobacco products as the impetus for the action.

It is learnt that tobacco and e-cigarette companies are paying so-called social media influencers -- quasi-celebrities with large followings -- to promote and market their products directly to young people on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat, according to a letter dated May 17, 2019 from more than 100 public health and tobacco-free organizations. This letter says;

"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 preempt 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, Snap-chat and Twitter. But Philip Morris International isn’t the only tobacco company engaging in this behavior, 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."

"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," the letter asserts.

While TV and magazine tobacco ads have long been banned, there is no law that stops tobacco or e-cigarette marketing on digital media: Social media companies simply create their own policies to monitor it. But tobacco companies are effectively circumventing those policies. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has compiled examples of posts viewed more than 100 million times that show social media "ambassadors" promoting cigarettes and tobacco-related products in lifestyle postings that are considered far more effective than traditional ads.
The mood of the images mimics big tobacco's wildly successful strategies when there were fewer restrictions on advertisements.

"Frequently the images that are projected are the very kind of lifestyle images that have been banned in other forms of marketing because of their appeal to kids. They show young people who are very, very attractive sometimes in sexually attractive poses," said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Men, meanwhile, are portrayed as rugged and masculine. "It's the modern day Marlborough cowboy permeating social media," Myers said. Public health organizations are calling on social media companies to regulate the marketing of cigarette and related products on their platforms.

Instagram and parent company Facebook both ban tobacco advertisements and Twitter said it prohibits "the promotion of tobacco products, accessories and brands worldwide," Reuters reported. "But the loophole is that the bans don't cover paid influencers and they don't have a mechanism for tracking those kinds of posts," Myers said.

The anti-tobacco organizations believe in a two-pronged solution that involves action from both governments and the tech companies whose platforms tobacco companies have permeated.

The onus is on social media companies to develop policies and algorithms that can detect influencers. "Governments need to do what they can but without the true assistance of social media companies, their task is impossible," Myers said.

The organizations are calling on tech companies to take "swift action" to remedy the problem by amending and enforcing their policies, and suspending users who violate them. "The evidence is clear that without swift action by Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter, Philip Morris International and other tobacco companies will continue to use your platforms to addict the next generation of tobacco users around the world. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter have a fantastic opportunity to prevent this from continuing," the letter reads.

Myers highlighted the urgent nature of the request. "These ads are extraordinarily influential. And the images they project are the exact kind of images that country after country has banned because of their powerful impact on youth," Myers said.

Source of information: Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Washington

- Asian Tribune -

Targeting Youth through social media
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