Is Big Tobacco Using The Web to Advertise?

It’s been nearly 40 years since cigarette advertisements on television and radio were banned in the U.S., and earlier this summer new regulations went into effect prohibiting tobacco companies from sponsoring events, but now the tobacco industry may have found a new, unregulated medium to advertise on – the Internet.

A study released this week describes an “Internet policy vacuum on Web 2.0” that’s left YouTube rife with pro-tobacco content.

According to the study, which was put out in part by the Department of Public Health in Wellington, New Zealand, “pro-tobacco videos have a significant presence on YouTube, consistent with indirect marketing activity by tobacco companies or their proxies,” despite the fact that tobacco companies deny using the Internet for advertising.

The report’s authors searched YouTube for five, non-Chinese cigarette brands and analyzed the results, placing them in pro- and anti-tobacco categories. They found that 95% of the videos were pro-tobacco and only 3.7% were anti-tobacco, with the four most prominent themes including “celebrity/movies, sports, music and ‘archive’, the first three of which represent themes of interest to a youth audience.”

The report concludes that governments should consider implementing the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control requirements, which went into effect in 2005 and required that all 168 member countries ban tobacco advertising. Without a concerted effort by governments worldwide, the Internet, the report finds, “is an ideal forum for tobacco marketing, as it is largely unregulated and there is no global governing body for controlling content”.

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