Facebook doesn’t allow cigarette or e-cigarette ads on their social media site, but that doesn’t stop kids from seeing other kids – so called “influencers” – posting pictures of themselves using the products.
Influencers are individuals who have a large following on social media sites such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Their pictures using products are real-time, looks genuine versus glossy pictures in a magazine, and they create a buzz in use without the company paying out millions of dollars toward advertising. Companies get “free” advertising without the hassle of contracts and commitments, and can have these pictures posted on social media sites that otherwise don’t allow tobacco advertising. But this practice is being looked at more closely with Juul stopping their practice last fall.
The FDA recently sent letters to four companies because their paid influencers didn’t “disclose the health and safety risks of vaping” and include warnings about nicotine and its addictiveness. This type of marketing isn’t illegal, but companies must follow the rules set forth in August 2018 by the FDA.
Philip Morris most recently came under fire for using young influencers in other countries. According to their company policy, they will not use “young celebrities or models who are or appear to be under the age of 25.” Yet one influencer was called out for being a very young looking 21 year old, Since then PMI has suspended all product-related digital influencer actions globally.” While no laws were broken by these “ads,” it seems PMI went back on their promises to the FDA that they would only market to adult cigarette smokers and that none of their marketing would be to youth or people who never smoked cigarettes.
If the tobacco industry, and now the vaping industry, has taught us anything is that if there are rules, they will be broken. And don’t even get us started on ethics. It’s time for the 1970 tobacco advertising ban to be updated to include social media.
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