01.11.2012 Covert tobacco advertising on the Internet

Online marketing. Tobacco advertising is forbidden or restricted in many countries. However, the tobacco industry is increasingly finding new ways of getting round these obstacles on the virtually uncontrolled and uncontrollable Web 2.0.

Pictures Covert tobacco advertising on the Internet


To date, 168 countries, including Switzerland, have signed up to the WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and undertaken to prohibit any form of tobacco advertising on their territory. The crux of this framework convention is that the ban applies for the most part to traditional advertising media such as print, radio and television. In many respects, however, the Internet is still in something of a legal limbo with regard to tobacco advertising. Thanks to the growing scope for interactivity and social media platforms offered by Web 2.0, the tobacco industry is finding more and new loopholes through which to market and advertise its wares.

Strong tobacco presence on YouTube
An important online platform for more or less covert tobacco advertising is YouTube. Conducted in the context of an American study in 2009, a search using the word "Marlboro" generated 3,590 hits on YouTube. Of the 20 most viewed of these videos, twelve contained explicit advertising for Marlboro. A study carried out in New Zealand yielded similar results. Its authors searched YouTube for the five leading Western cigarette brands. They analysed the contents of the most viewed films generated by each search (total: 163) and ascertained that most of them contained material promoting smoking. Over 70 per cent of the films had a brand name in their title. One film in favour of smoking had been viewed over two million times.

Marketing in legal limbo
The tobacco industry makes clever use of the Internet to blur the distinction between marketing and market research. RJ Reynolds, the producer of Camel cigarettes, is a case in point. The company used its website to invite thousands of consumers to help launch a new cigarette and design the packing. As a deliberate secondary effect, the campaign generated a great deal of word-of-mouth propaganda for the company and its tobacco products.

Using the same weapons
These are only two examples of how the tobacco industry exploits Web 2.0 and the growing opportunities for interactivity. If such advertising is to be stopped, there is above all a need for effective and up-to-date legislation that focuses on the Internet and its platforms. With its emphasis on interactivity, Web 2.0 is an easily accessible, fun and fast channel for advertising. Tobacco prevention players are also exploiting these advantages to promote their activities and disseminate information campaigns.


Laure Curt, Tobacco Section, laure.curt@bag.admin.ch

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