Most social media marketing presented e-cigarettes as desirable lifestyle products for teens and youth; not as cessation aids for smokers.
Nov. 22, 2022 (New York)—The use of e-cigarettes is proliferating globally, notably among youth and even children. Yet little is known about the landscape of digital e-cigarette marketing and how it varies across countries, particularly in emerging markets with different regulatory environments. A new study released in Frontiers in Public Health compares e-cigarette marketing in India, Indonesia and Mexico—three countries with different e-cigarette regulations and large populations of youth online—to detail the extent and messaging of e-cigarette marketing.
In the four-month period analyzed in this study, from December 2021 to March 2022, a total of 1,437 instances of e-cigarette marketing were analyzed. Most of these were in Indonesia, where there are effectively no restrictions on e-cigarettes (72%), followed by Mexico, which had some restrictions at the time (22%), and India, which has a full ban (6%). Findings were generated by Vital Strategies’ Tobacco Enforcement and Reporting Movement (TERM), a digital tobacco marketing monitoring system. Through its continuous social media monitoring mechanism, TERM provides policymakers with a rapid snapshot of how tobacco is marketed online.
“For countries that care about youth and non-smokers taking up e-cigarettes, our study shows that leaving the products and their marketing unregulated is not an option,” said Nandita Murukutla, Vice President, Global Advocacy and Research, Vital Strategies. “Indonesia, which does not regulate e-cigarettes, had the highest frequency of marketing observed, whereas India, where e-cigarettes are fully banned, the least. Moreover, the tone in the marketing, with its depiction of e-cigarettes as a lifestyle choice shared by peers, promotes e-cigarette use as a harmless and desirable habit for teens and youth. This presentation is inconsistent with the stated need for e-cigarettes as cessation-aids or ‘harm reduction tools’ to help tobacco users to quit. Thoughtful product regulations that include marketing restrictions are crucial.”
From December 2021 to March 2022 the following trends were observed:
- E-cigarette marketing was observed in all three countries, with the highest volume in Indonesia (72% of observed instances), followed by Mexico (22%) and India (6%).
- In both India and Mexico, marketing originated from retailer accounts (100%), whereas in Indonesia, it was primarily product brand accounts (86%).
- Across countries, e-cigarettes were mostly marketed directly to sell products (India: 99%; Indonesia: 69%; Mexico: 93%), though the sales channels varied. In India, social media accounts offered fewer and more covert options for sales, such as reaching out to a provided phone number, whereas in Indonesia and Mexico, accounts provided links to online stores or in-person locations where purchases could be made. In Indonesia links to e-commerce sites, such as Tokopedia and Shopee, were also often provided.
- In all three countries, most marketing was observed on Meta platforms, particularly Facebook and Instagram, despite Meta’s own advertising policies
- In both Indonesia and Mexico, marketers used holidays to offer sales on e-cigarette products and to promote them as gifts, as well as to offer greetings on behalf of the brand to build relationships with consumers.
“Young people continue to be targeted by the tobacco and e-cigarette industries, notably on social media platforms,” said Sutantri, Director of Muhammadiyah Steps, Universitas Muhammadiyah Yogyakarta, a group of researchers, academics and advocates in Indonesia. “While the debate over e-cigarettes’ role as a harm reduction device rage on globally, this study showed that e-cigarettes are mostly presented in marketing, particularly to youth, as desirable consumables—not as quit or harm reduction devices. Ensuring e-cigarette industry messaging doesn’t reach people, especially on digital platforms where young people gather, through a strong policy regulation will be critical to preventing a new generation of users and smokers.”
Key recommendations of the study:
- E-cigarette regulations, including marketing restrictions, are necessary.
- Governments, media and tobacco control advocates need to counter misleading messages, especially those aimed at youth and children, that glamorize e-cigarette use and present them as without harms.
- Governments should invest in digital media monitoring systems to track and respond to the presence of marketing of tobacco and other novel products online. Civil society and other stakeholders can help: Rapid and continuous measurement systems such as TERM offer a snapshot of the evolving world of digital media marketing.
“Monitoring advertising and churning out data for rapid reporting is a novel way of providing policymakers with a ‘dipstick’ into the invisible world of online tobacco advertising,” said Gini Arnold, Social Determinants of Health, World Health Organization. “Agile digital media monitoring systems, like TERM, can play a crucial role in complementing current tobacco control efforts to respond to the constantly adapting industry tactics in digital environments, and in targeting counter-marketing schemes such as media campaigns.”
Access the full report here: http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpubh.2022.1012727/full?&utm_source=Email_to_authors_&utm_medium=Email&utm_content=T1_11.5e1_author&utm_campaign=Email_publication&field=&journalName=Frontiers_in_Public_Health&id=1012727
At the time of this study, e-cigarette regulations across the countries differed: In India, e-cigarettes were comprehensively banned; in Mexico, midway through the study, the national tobacco control law was revised to ban the trade, sale, distribution, exhibition and promotion of any product that resembles a tobacco product; in Indonesia, there was no national law restricting the sale, use or advertising of e-cigarettes.
About the Tobacco Enforcement and Reporting Movement
Vital Strategies’ Tobacco Enforcement and Reporting Movement (TERM) is a real-time digital media monitoring system that provides evidence of tobacco marketing on social media platforms and news sites. Vital Strategies collects and analyzes data on the volume and type of tobacco marketing, which is then presented through simple situation reports and in-depth special reports on emerging issues. These reports provide governments, advocates and key stakeholders with critical data that can be used to inform tobacco control policymaking, particularly laws on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. TERM is currently operating in India, Indonesia and Mexico.
Learn more at www.term.community
About Vital Strategies
Vital Strategies believes every person should be protected by an equitable and effective public health system. We partner with governments, communities and organizations around the world to reimagine public health so that health is supported in all the places we live, work and play. The result is millions of people living longer, healthier lives.
To learn more visit vitalstrategies.org or follow us @VitalStrat.
Ally Davis: firstname.lastname@example.org +1-516-205-4203