The influencer and the e-cig – a moral tale for our rapidly changing times

The misleading advertising of tobacco alternatives on social media has become a critical concern of public health groups and some governments around the world.

A recent report published by the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended policymakers to ban all commercial marketing of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products, including on social media and through organisations funded by and associated with the tobacco industry.

The Philippines Senate presented a bill in May, seeking to ban the endorsement of vaping and heated tobacco products by celebrities and influencers.

Under Senate Bill 2239, the “Vaporized Nicotine Products Regulation Act”, advertising or other forms of consumer communication regarding the importation, manufacture, sale, packaging, distribution, use and consumption of vapour and heated tobacco products should be “allowed in points-of-sale or retail establishments, through direct marketing, and on the internet”. However, the bill adds that such communications “shall not be targeted to or particularly appeal to people under 18…and shall not feature a celebrity or social media influencer or contain an endorsement, implied or express, by a celebrity or social media influencer”.

As a result, celebrities and influencers are prohibited from receiving remuneration for promoting or encouraging these products, it adds.

The second reading of the bill is still pending. Once senators vote on the second reading version of the bill, it will pass to the third reading if it gets approval. It will then pass to the House of Representatives, where it will be subject to the same process before final approval. A full Senate session decided yesterday to leave further debate of the bill and any questions over specific provisions until after the 2022 budget is passed in late November.

 

A letter to Facebook et al

 

More than 100 public health and other organisations recently called on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter to end the promotion of nicotine pouches on their platforms, including paid advertising by influencers.

In a letter to the CEOs of the companies, they claimed their current advertising policies do not explicitly ban content promoting nicotine pouches. The signatories urged the social media companies to update their policies on tobacco advertising to ban companies from targeting young people with ads. 

In May 2019, more than 125 public health organisations addressed a similar letter to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat to “take swift action to curb the aggressive advertising” of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. It followed reporting by Reuters on young social media influencers being used by Philip Morris International (PMI) to market its Iqos heated tobacco device. In response, PMI suspended some of its campaigns.

study conducted between 2018 and 2019 about Iqos influencer marketing on Instagram in the Czech Republic revealed that the tobacco industry’s advertising had “misused the rapid evolution of social media, especially Instagram”, with celebrities and influencers presenting Iqos as a “gateway to an aspirational, healthy, attractive and celebrity lifestyle”.

The influencer and the e-cig are alike in being manifestations of a new world a world that regulators everywhere are engaged in a constant struggle to keep up with.

Antonia Di Lorenzo ECigIntelligence staff

Image: Gerd Altmann

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