Can You Advertise Tobacco on the Internet?

This article explores whether you can advertise tobacco products on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitch, Discord etc., as well as regulations related to it.

Can You Advertise Tobacco on the Internet?

Advertising of tobacco and nicotine products should not be promoted, unless they are smoking cessation products. Nine social media platforms have explicitly banned paid advertising of tobacco products, but the definitions of tobacco products vary between platforms. For example, Tumblr allowed paid advertising for e-cigarettes when it was “legal in the target market”. YouTube banned paid tobacco ads and limited the ability to monetize videos that promoted tobacco by labeling them as “with limited or no ads”.

Video creators can earn money by sharing the revenue from the ads that appear in their videos, and videos are less likely to be chosen for advertising if they are labeled as “with limited or no ads”. Newer platforms, such as Twitch and Discord, had no tobacco promotion policies. The federal Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act regulates the sale of smokeless cigarettes and tobacco. To this end, the FDA may specifically restrict tobacco advertising in media and events that are attractive to young people, such as social media.

Six platforms restricted content that sells tobacco products and three tried to prohibit minors from accessing content that promotes or sells tobacco products. Regulations that restrict the marketing of tobacco limit the promotion, placement, flavorings, or prices of tobacco products. Removing advertising panels containing tobacco on the walls of boxes has been shown to reduce the likelihood of teenagers smoking. Tobacco advertising and sales practices in authorized retail establishments must comply with Food and Drug Administration regulations.

Funding for this study is an inter-agency collaborative project of the Marketing Influences Special Interest Group (SIG) with the support, in part, of the Coordination Center for Analysis, Science, Improvement and Logistics (CASEL) in tobacco regulatory science U54DA046060-01 (National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Tobacco Products (FDA CTP). Tobacco control researchers have studied the cross-border promotion of tobacco less because non-native languages and locations in other countries are often omitted from social media surveillance (usually not in English and in non-U. S. languages).

Tobacco promotion is prolific on social networks, and each platform sets its own restrictions on the promotion and sale of tobacco. In addition, platforms must clearly define policies that prohibit the promotion and sale of tobacco products through both direct and indirect methods (for example, influencers who market the product) and explicitly establish policies that prohibit young people from accessing promotional content about tobacco. For example, Facebook and Instagram didn't allow tobacco products to be sold in their “marketplace”, but they allowed brands and retailers to sell tobacco products in their age-restricted publications. The ban on the sale of tobacco products varied: some prohibited sales on their official commercial platforms and others prohibited user-to-user transactions, which could include smoking-related gifts.

The restrictions on promotion included that the platform's algorithm did not “promote” or recommend promotional content about tobacco to its users and the prohibition of creating posts by influencers with content about tobacco.

Clifton Dupriest
Clifton Dupriest

Award-winning coffee aficionado. Typical travel guru. Incurable coffee junkie. Proud music advocate. General pop culture guru.

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