Social Media

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The World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) bans all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. However there is evidence that the ban is being flaunted online by the tobacc companies, especially via social media.
Social media is an area the comapnies are looking to exploit. In 2010 the annual Global Tobacco Networking Forum had a session on “Social Media in Regulated Markets” from Jason Falls, a leading expert on internet branding. Falls argues “it is entirely possible to leverage social media marketing and the social web as a company in a regulated industry”. 1 2


In 2010, a scientific study that was published in the journal Tobacco Control found that the tobacco industry was using websites such as YouTube to get around bans on advertising cigarettes. Researchers in New Zealand studied the video-sharing site and found a number of pro-tobacco videos “consistent with indirect marketing activity by tobacco companies or their proxies”. 3 4
“Tobacco companies stand to benefit greatly from the marketing potential of Web 2.0, without themselves being at significant risk of being implicated in violating any laws or advertising codes,” the researchers wrote.
The authors analysed 163 clips, of which 20 appeared to be “very professionally made.” “It is disturbing to note that some of the pro-tobacco videos appeared to be of a professional standard, many followed similar themes within a brand and large numbers contained images or music that maybe copyrighted to tobacco companies but have not been removed,” the researchers said.
Ken Garcia, spokesman for Philip Morris, said the firm did not “post cigarette brand marketing on YouTube.”
Catherine Armstrong, a spokesperson for British American Tobacco, said it was “not our policy to use social networking sites such as Facebook or YouTube to promote our tobacco product brands.”


However, another scientific paper in Tobacco Control, also published in 2010 looked at the use of Facebook by BAT and its employees. Their research focused on BAT and two of its international brands – Lucky Strike and Dunhill. Each of the 3 search terms generated more than 500 items across a variety of Facebook subsections.
The researchers concluded: “Some BAT employees are energetically promoting BAT and BAT brands on Facebook through joining and administrating groups, joining pages as fans and posting photographs of BAT events, products and promotional items. BAT employees undertaking these actions are from countries that have ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.” 5
The tobacco industry front organisation, Forest, is also on also on Facebook 6 as well as its industry-funded campaign, Hands off Our Packs. 7


The BAT press office is on Twitter 8, as is BAT Australia 9 so is Imperial Tobacco’s recruitment section 10.
Forest is also on twitter 11 as well as Hands Off Our Packs. 12


  1. Jamie Doward and Denis Campbell,companies accused of promoting cigarette brands online, Pro-tobacco content on Facebook and YouTube is glamorising smoking among the young, warn health groups”, The Observer, 10 October 2010
  2. Global Tobacco Networking Forum, Agenda, 4-8 October 2008
  3. Jonathan Fildes, “Tobacco firms’ use of YouTube probed”, BBC News, 26 August 2010
  4. Lucy Elkin, George Thomson, Nick Wilson, “Connecting world youth with tobacco brands: YouTube and the internet policy vacuum on Web 2.0”, Tobacco Control, doi:10.1136/tc.2010.035949
  5. Becky Freeman and Simon Chapman, “British American Tobacco on Facebook: undermining article 13 of the global World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control”, Tobacco Control, 2010; 19:e1-e9 doi:10.1136/tc.2009.032847
  6. Forest Forest
  7. Facebook, Hands off our Packs
  8. Twitter, BAT Press
  9. Twitter, BATA Media
  10. Twitter, Imperial Tobacco Recruitment
  11. Twitter, Forest
  12. Twitter, No to Plain Packs
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