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Tobacco Industry Uses Metaverse, Advergames, NFTs To Target Youth and Skirt Advertising Regulations

New research by Vital Strategies exposes marketing in the metaverse, where 51% of users are age 13 or younger

Nov. 9, 2023 (New York)—A new report by Vital Strategies’ TERM, an AI-powered marketing monitoring service, found that tobacco companies are fighting declining global smoking rates and stricter advertising regulations by investing in novel digital marketing ranging from metaverse experiences to podcasts, NFT art and beyond. These unregulated spaces are dominated by younger audiences, with some estimations showing that 51% of metaverse participants are age 13 or younger.

“Tobacco use is on the decline globally and the tobacco industry desperately needs to hook the next generation of users to protect their bottom line as smokers die off,” said Nandita Murukutla, Vice President, Global Policy and Research at Vital Strategies. “In TERM’s latest report, we see the industry trying everything online to reach new users, tapping into their vast marketing budgets to place advertising in every corner of the internet, where regulations are weakest. Of particular concern is that the spaces they are targeting are overwhelmingly full of young audiences. Our data shows that governments need to step up: Smart policies and enforcement are needed urgently to address the challenges these digital tools pose to efforts to curb tobacco marketing. We need to keep our foot on the gas and ensure the technology isn’t left unchecked.”

Exposure to tobacco marketing is a main reason why youth initiate smoking, which kills half of users. It is well established that tobacco is being promoted on social media; less is known about other emerging digital venues. Vital Strategies’ Tobacco Enforcement and Reporting Movement (TERM) is offering early evidence into how these platforms are being exploited by tobacco companies across a range of digital platforms. “The Next Frontier in Tobacco Marketing: The Metaverse, NFTs, Advergames and More” offers recommendations for governments on how to take action now to prevent tobacco marketing from growing unchecked.

Key findings include:

  • Diverse marketing tactics and tools: Tobacco is being marketed using a range of marketing tactics across different platforms. This includes developing video games to advertise products (“advergaming”); using music, sports and adventure brands to indirectly promote a company’s tobacco products (community marketing and event promotions); using social media to promote “corporate social responsibility” initiatives to build brand familiarity; and selling products through websites and through messaging apps such as WhatsApp that are more challenging to monitor (online retail).
    • Example of advergaming: TERM found a youth-oriented online game that indirectly promotes one of the largest tobacco companies in the country through the use of its corporate logo.
    • Example of community marketing and event promotions: TERM found music, sports and adventure brands in Indonesia organized events that were sponsored by tobacco brands to indirectly promote tobacco products and appeal to youth.
  • Use of emerging technologies: Digital innovations such as NFTs and the metaverse are already being used for tobacco promotions, and it is likely that this will increase as they become more popular.
    • Example in the metaverse: TERM observed a tobacco company-associated account in Indonesia using metaverse art to promote partying and smoking in the metaverse. In India, a tobacco company sponsored the first metaverse wedding and Diwali celebration via its juice and chocolate brands. (Image 1)
    • Example of an NFT: TERM found an NFT developed and promoted by a tobacco company in India to celebrate the company’s 93rd anniversary. (Image 2)

“Digital platforms have increased the power of marketing and our exposure to it. This increases demand for harmful products and with it the risk for a host of diseases,” said Benn McGrady, Unit Head, Public Health Law and Policies, Health Promotion Department, World Health Organization (WHO). “At this year’s COP10, Parties to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control will consider new guidelines that address digital tobacco marketing. TERM’s findings reinforce the need for governments to strengthen their efforts to address digital marketing as part of comprehensive bans on all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.”

Fueled by increasing use of virtual and augmented reality technology, advertising in the metaverse is expected to grow each year to a market size of nearly US $4 billion by 2030. Many experts predict that by 2040 the metaverse will be a fully immersive, daily part of life for half a billion or more people around the world.

Recommendations for governments:

  • Restrict: Prohibit all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship across all media platforms, including evolving ones based on newer technologies.
  • Monitor: Establish media monitoring systems to identify new trends in tobacco marketing.
  • Enforce: Consider which government agencies and other stakeholders have jurisdiction to regulate different platforms and the best mechanisms to do so. 

Evidence presented in this report is drawn from Vital Strategies’ Tobacco Enforcement and Reporting Movement (TERM), a digital media monitoring system that leverages the power of AI and our team of tobacco control experts to identify evidence of tobacco marketing on social media platforms and news sites.

Read the full report here:

For more information about TERM, visit:

About TERM

Vital Strategies’ Tobacco Enforcement and Reporting Movement (TERM) is an AI-powered, human-expertise-driven digital media monitoring system built in response to the tobacco industry’s exploitation of the power of digital platforms. TERM tracks and analyzes tobacco marketing online using news and social media listening. It packages findings into actionable, easy-to-read reports for governments, media, tobacco control advocates and others. TERM is currently operating in India, Indonesia and Mexico.

To find out more, visit or follow us on Twitter @termcommunity and Instagram @termcommunity.

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 find out more, please visit or Twitter @VitalStrat.

Media Contacts

Ally Davis,

Christina Honeysett,  

Image 1

Image 1 The caption of this post invites followers, and especially introverts who love electronic music, to party in the metaverse. The avatars are smoking, with Djarum L.A. Ice menthol kretek cigarette packages laid out on the table. Post translation: Introverts can go all out—party but not overcrowded. Source: Instagram

Image 2

Image 2 The Indian smokeless tobacco company DS Group celebrated its 93rd anniversary by creating an NFT of the company founders’ portraits. Source: @DS Group Facebook.