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As COVID-19 Underscores Tobacco Threat, the Public Can Counter Tobacco Marketing in India With a New Digital Crowdsourcing Tool

As the tobacco industry targets a new generation of users, a new platform—TERM—can help identify tobacco marketing in India

July 22, 2021 (New York)—A new initiative by global public health organization Vital Strategies is recruiting the public in India to hold the tobacco industry accountable through an online campaign and platform that allows them to monitor and report on predatory marketing. 

Data gathered through TERM—Tobacco Enforcement and Reporting Movement—supports governments and policymakers in tracking tobacco advertisements and identifying marketing to youth and others. From January to May 2021, a total of 4,222 marketing instances were logged in India.  

The raging COVID-19 pandemic has brought renewed attention to risk factors—including tobacco use—that put people at greater risk of severe illness. A staggering 1.1 billion people in the world smoke, with 80% of smokers living in countries with weaker public health systems. In the past year, pandemic stress, personal disruption and stay-at-home orders have increased tobacco and nicotine use. 

Policies that limit the marketing of tobacco products are a key component of the World Health Organization MPOWER package to reduce tobacco use, but advertising bans are frequently ignored by an industry desperate to recruit new tobacco users.  

“To end the tobacco epidemic, we must confront the tobacco industry’s predation of young people, women and communities in resource-constrained countries through illicit marketing,” said Vaishakhi Mallik, Associate Director, South Asia at Vital Strategies. “TERM is a digital platform that empowers the public—parents, teachers, young people, advocates—to report tobacco marketing easily online. The platform aggregates these reports along with data from online conversations, social media posts, and media articles into actionable insights for governments and civil society. TERM is a powerful tool. In India, we saw 890 cases of tobacco marketing from March 16 to April 15, 2021 alone.” 

To report incidents of tobacco marketing in India, users can send directly to the Facebook page.  

“Tobacco marketing is ubiquitous, and the explosion of digital and cross-border marketing has made it an even greater logistical challenge for governments,” said Nandita Murukutla, Vice President of Global Policy and Research at Vital Strategies. “The tobacco industry’s global reach often goes unchecked, especially on social media. TERM’s unique monitoring and crowdsourcing features enable governments and health authorities to identify the extent of tobacco marketing and take measured steps to respond to it.” 

TERM was originally rolled out in India. Vital Strategies is now working on expanding this work into Indonesia with plans to include Mexico as well. 

“Because more than half of long-term smokers will die from tobacco-related causes, the tobacco industry spends billions of dollars each year to retain smokers and recruit a new generation,” said Enrico Aditjondro, Associate Director for Southeast Asia at Vital Strategies. “A recent report from Vital Strategies found that 41% of adolescents in Indonesia regularly see and hear tobacco marketing, with social media being the largest platform.” 

Young people continue to be targeted by the tobacco industry, notably on social media platforms. Despite legislation that prohibits the direct and indirect advertisement of tobacco products in several countries, including India, tobacco marketing continues to be widespread, targeting youth often under the guise and deception of glamour and popularity. In India about 48% of the total observed marketing on social media platforms took place on Facebook alone.  

“While it’s no secret that Big Tobacco is not interested in protecting people’s health and well-being, the industry’s efforts to snatch young people’s opportunities, experiences and future potential by shortening their lives is reprehensible” said Rebecca Perl, Vice President of Partnerships and Initiatives at Vital Strategies. “It’s time to adopt and enforce tobacco marketing and advertising regulations to reduce death and disease.” 

Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in the world, claiming more than 8 million lives each year. To prevent today’s youth and future generations from the lifelong harms of tobacco, reporting platforms such as TERM can include the public in the battle to hold the tobacco industry accountable and end the industry’s long history of manipulation and exploitation. 

About Vital Strategies:  

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. We work with governments and civil society in 73 countries to design and implement evidence-based strategies that tackle their most pressing public health problems. Our goal is to see governments adopt promising interventions at scale as rapidly as possible. In tobacco control, Vital Strategies works globally and in more than 40 countries to support the adoption of proven policies to reduce tobacco use and is a main partner in the $1 billion Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use and a partner in the global tobacco industry watchdog, Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products (STOP).  

To find out more, please visit www.vitalstrategies.org or Twitter @VitalStrat. 

or www.vitalstrategies.org/programs/tobacco-control   

Media Contact(s):  

Christina Honeysett: choneysett@vitalstrategies.org, +1-917-720-4775  
Ally Davis: adavis@vitalstrategies.org, +1-516-205-4203