Big Tobacco and Vapor’s Use of Social Media Influencers Questioned

Big Tobacco and Vapor's Use of Social Media Influencers Questioned

Instagram, a social media platform owned by Facebook, is said to be releasing new rules and policies regarding tobacco marketing in the next few months, in part as a response to a recent study conducted by PRWeek.

More than 125 health organizations from 48 different countries have urged different social media platforms to immediately end the promotion of all tobacco products on their respective sites. As a way to curb the promotion of cigarettes, e-cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products on social media, these public health organizations are asking the content policies to be amended to match advertising rules, which often prohibited the promotion of anything tobacco related. This is also a move to go after the use of social media influencers who have been used as a loophole to promote tobacco products on behalf a company. These groups are accusing the tobacco industry of using social media and its appeal to younger people to get a new generation hooked on its products.

Currently, Facebook does not allow any ads that promote the use and sale of tobacco products. This policy, however, does not extend to organic posts. Individuals and tobacco companies are allowed to promote tobacco and tobacco-related products on Facebook and Instagram as long as it’s not in the form of paid for post. Twitter and other social media platforms have similar policies. If a post is created and posted by an influencer in partnership with a brand, it should be marked as such and it can only be promoted to other users over the age of 18.

PRWeek specifically investigated the relationship between what it calls Big Tobacco and social media influencers. During the course of the investigation, PRWeek found that several posts that promoted cigars also included offers for various tobacco products that offered a link offsite to purchase these products. A spokesperson for Facebook and Instagram told PRWeek that while the social media platforms don’t allow any advertising that promote the use or sale of tobacco and related products, it is looking at its policies regarding tobacco marketing and will announce new policies in the next few months.

PRWeek went so far as to share several posts with Facebook and Instagram where tobacco products were being promoted for sale and users were being directed to external websites. It also brought into question the use of racy, sexualized images that were used to promote products and re-direct users to external websites to purchase said products.

In a separate case of the relationship between influencers, social media and the promotion of tobacco and related products, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently warned several vaping companies about its use of social media influencers to promote their flavored nicotine products. The FDA sent warning letters to Solace Technologies LLC, Hype City Vapors, LLC, Humble Juice Co, LLC, and Artist Liquids Laboratories, LLC for posting content that promoted flavored e-liquid products or recommended their social media followers try the products without including the required nicotine warning statement, “WARNING: This product contains nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive chemical.”

According to the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the absence of this statement violated section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, which prohibits unfair or deceptive advertising.

“These letters are a reminder that companies who use social media influencers to promote their products must comply with all applicable advertising requirements,” said Andrew Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Moreover, ads must disclose material health or safety risks – in this case, the fact that nicotine is highly addictive.”

You can read the full press release from the FDA on the warning letters relating to social media use here. To read more about PRWeek‘s investigation into social media influencers and their relationship with Big Tobacco, click here.