Statement from Sandra Mullin, Vital Strategies’ Senior Vice President, Policy Advocacy and Communication, on Guidelines to Address Tobacco Marketing in Digital Media
October 10, 2023 (New York) – “The expanding reach of digital media means tobacco marketing is still making its way into billions of hands and homes worldwide. This is a cause for concern because marketing normalizes tobacco and encourages the next generation to use tobacco products, which kill up to half of their users. We applaud the report by the working group established by the Conference of the Parties To The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to develop guidelines to address cross-border tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship and the depiction of tobacco in entertainment media. When governments meet in November to advance the global health treaty governing tobacco, they should adopt these guidelines and move toward implementation.
Decades of evidence shows that exposure to tobacco advertising causes tobacco use. That’s why 66 countries have already banned the tobacco industry from advertising in print, on billboards, and via television and radio. However, marketing across digital media is notoriously more difficult to reign in because it crosses borders and is often disguised as peer-to-peer content rather than advertising. Vital Strategies has documented worrying levels of tobacco marketing on social media via the Tobacco Enforcement and Reporting Movement (TERM), its AI-powered, human-expertise-driven monitoring system.
Streaming services risk becoming complicit in tobacco marketing. Tobacco industry watchdog, STOP, exposed that Netflix streamed more than 1 billion minutes of content containing imagery from British American Tobacco and Philip Morris International in Season 4 of its “Drive to Survive” docuseries.
Today’s threats go beyond cigarettes to include a myriad of other addictive harmful nicotine and tobacco products that have been introduced to retain customers amid declining smoking rates. In the U.S., experts have pointed at social media marketing strategies as what led to a huge increase of teens starting to use electronic cigarettes.
The proposed guidelines are intended to supplement existing treaty guidelines that were developed before the significant expansion of digital entertainment media. Among the recommendations are that comprehensive bans on tobacco marketing apply to all media types, including digital media, and all digital media platforms. They also include increasing government collaboration to address cross-border advertising and requiring that digital media platforms apply and enforce advertising measures, including for electronic cigarettes. In addition, proposed guidelines also include collaborating with the media industry to reduce tobacco depictions and enhanced monitoring of tobacco advertising on digital platforms, with a focus on new and evolving technologies.
Some countries, such as India, have already taken action to address tobacco depictions in these newer digital media platforms. Earlier this year, they introduced new regulations requiring that health warnings be displayed on content with tobacco scenes on streaming platforms like Netflix—bolstering existing regulations that applied to films and broadcast television. India’s revised regulations align with the specific guidelines under consideration by treaty parties and can serve as a model for other countries.
These specific guidelines address tobacco marketing in digital media and offer an important roadmap for countries to reign in these new channels that the tobacco industry uses to reach the next generation. With the partnership of governments and civil society organizations worldwide, Vital Strategies is steadfast in our commitment to support these guidelines globally and protect millions from the harms of tobacco.”
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.