Big Tobacco’s Social Media Practices Questioned

Anti-Tobacco Groups Accuse Tobacco Companies of Deceptive Influencer Social Media Marketing


The New York Times reported that representatives from many of these tobacco companies asserted that they only market their products to adult smokers and that they comply with the laws of the countries where their products are sold. This is where a gray area of uncertainty is created since social media often has no boundaries, meaning a campaign launched in any country could easily have impact and influencer a consumer living in the U.S. This also brings up new legal questions such as if the tobacco companies are not directly marketing to a U.S. audience, does the FTC or any other U.S. government agency have the legal right to dictate how they can market their products in other countries via social media.

Social media is an important marketing resource for many tobacco companies. While the study and petition targets mostly “big tobacco”, it should be noted that other tobacco categories including premium cigars, pipe tobacco, hookah and vape all have some presence on various social media channels. Many companies in these categories use hashtags, some that are directly tied to their brands and others that are subtle, and many rely on some form of influencer marketing to help build brand awareness for their products. Social media has been an unclear area of the Deeming Rules with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration loosely making rules for how companies can advertise and promote regulated tobacco and vapor products on social media but there’s yet to be a definitive rule or guidance beyond the restriction of marketing and advertising on social media to youth and minors.

The group advises that the FTC require tobacco companies to disclose on social media that their pictures, videos and hashtags are paid advertisements and endorsements by including the hashtags #Sponsored, #Promotion or #Ad in the caption or within the videos and photos.

You can read the full report and petition from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids by clicking here.