Pro-tobacco messages prominent on YouTube

03 Sep 2010

FCTC Article 13

The internet is providing an ideal marketing outlet for large tobacco companies due to its unregulated nature, according to findings from a recent study by the University of Otago in Wellington, New Zealand.

The study analysed 163 English language videos on YouTube for tobacco brand images and words. The study’s authors (Lucy Elkin, George Thomson and Nick Wilson) used five of the leading global cigarette brands – Marlboro, Winston, Benson and Hedges, Mild Seven and L&M – to conduct their research.

The majority (71.2 per cent) of the videos had pro-tobacco content, versus a small minority (3.7 per cent) having anti-tobacco content. One pro-smoking video clip had been viewed over two million times.

Prominent themes in the videos like celebrities, movies, sport and music also appealed directly to youth markets.

YouTube is not the first social networking site to be targeted by tobacco companies. Last year, companies like Marlboro, Benson and Hedges and Lucky Strike were appearing on Facebook asking people to become a fan of their brands.

Tobacco marketing is ideal for the internet because there is no universal regulatory body controlling content. This means that media banned in one country can easily be uploaded from another.

Tobacco marketing is also relatively cheap to produce; provides sufficient information via a computer screen; and provides 24- hour brand access.

According to the study, governments should consider implementing the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to help prevent pro-tobacco content from appearing in online mediums. Plus, public and health organisations should ask YouTube to remove the offending pro-tobacco content.

Tobacco companies are denying that they are behind the advertising– particularly on YouTube.

However, the study found that some of the videos were high quality and look professionally made. Many also conformed to brands’ themes and contained images or music that may be copyrighted to tobacco companies.

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