The global campaign will debunk myths and expose devious tactics employed by these industries. It will provide young people with the knowledge required to easily detect industry manipulation and equip them with the tools to rebuff such tactics, thereby empowering young people to stand up against them.
This is especially important right now as studies show that smokers have a higher risk for a severe case of coronavirus. WHO calls on all young people to join the fight to become a tobacco-free generation.
Tobacco and related industry tactics to attract younger generations
There are 1.3 billion tobacco users worldwide. That number would be even larger if tobacco didn’t kill half of its users. Every four seconds, tobacco takes another life. Decades of the tobacco industry’s deception and devious tactics have hooked generations of users to nicotine and tobacco, driving this global epidemic. The multi-billion-dollar industry recruits new tobacco and nicotine users to reward investors with as much profit as possible and keep its business alive.
Tobacco and related industries have increasingly preyed on children and adolescents, employing advertising tactics and targeting them directly with a new portfolio of products that threaten their health. These industries are moving at a rapid speed to launch existing and new products and use every means to expand their market share before regulations can catch up with them. Tobacco and related industries continue to oppose evidence-based measures, such as increases in excise taxes and comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship and have threatened legal actions against governments that try to protect the health of their citizens.
Questions & Answers (Q&A)
How are tobacco and related industries marketing new and emerging products?
E-cigarettes are often promoted as “reduced-risk”, “smoke-free”, “socially acceptable” consumer products. These promotional strategies have the potential to renormalize smoking and drive long-term use of addictive nicotine products which, like tobacco, are undoubtedly harmful to the consumer, under the guise of being a healthier alternative. Tobacco and related industries exploit the fact that the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes have not been established and they are not yet regulated in most countries, enabling them to work around tobacco advertising bans and promote the use of their products in smoke-free environments.
Some manufacturers also tend to talk about e-cigarettes with HTPs together, thereby confusing potential consumers, and making it difficult to tell the difference between a tobacco and a non-tobacco product. These social-positioning techniques, coupled with strategic marketing tactics, are particularly effective in targeting children and adolescents and have the potential to sustain nicotine addiction in youth globally.
What sponsorship schemes are used to manipulate children and adolescents?
- Celebrity and influencer endorsements. Advertising is increasingly shifting to social media platforms, and the nicotine and tobacco industries are no different. “Influencers” on social media who reach and engage children and adolescents are invited by these industries to serve as “brand ambassadors” or offered financial incentives to promote their products. Social influencers have the potential to give their audiences the impression of more authentic promotion of the products, particularly when posts do not disclose the sponsorship details.
- Scholarships. Tobacco and ENDS-related entities have offered scholarships to high school, college and graduate students, some requiring applicants to submit essays on the dangers of tobacco and the potential benefits of ENDS use.
- School programmes and youth camps. Tobacco and ENDS-related entities have paid schools for the opportunity to speak in classrooms or after school. They have also sponsored summer camps to spread misconceptions about the risks of ENDS use and market their products under the guise of promoting “safer alternatives” to conventional tobacco products.
What advertising tactics are used to target new, young consumers?
- Digital and social media advertising. With the pervasiveness of smartphones and constant Internet access, nicotine and tobacco companies have strategically used digital and social media platforms to reach younger generations, including through their favourite apps and video games. Social media platforms allow users to interact with the marketing features, which increases exposure and influence among children and adolescents. They also allow marketers to access profile details of users and their friends and effectively target potential customers. Countries that have adopted advertising, promotion and sponsorship bans, but have not explicitly banned cross-border advertising, are susceptible to exposing their youth to digital and social media advertising originating from other countries. Just over 100 hashtags associated with tobacco companies have been viewed more than 25 billion times around the world between 2007-2016.
- Attractive displays in retail shops. Vendors near schools are frequently paid to display nicotine and tobacco products in their retail shops, along with sleek point-of-sale display boards, attractive marketing materials and bright, colourful cases to attract young customers. Modern, attractive retail spaces with a wide variety of products that appeal to youth are also now commonly used to market new and novel products.
- Advertising materials and products at eye-level of children. In many countries, nicotine and tobacco products can be found at children’s eye levels and near shops selling toys, electronic gadgets, sweets, snacks or soda.
What marketing ploys are used to attract children and adolescents to nicotine and tobacco products?
- Flavours that appeal to youth. Tobacco products, such as smokeless and waterpipe tobacco, are sold in sweet and fruity flavours, which may increase appeal to non-smokers and mask the harsh tobacco taste. To date, researchers have identified over 15,000 e-cigarette flavours available, including flavours proven to appeal to youth, such as cotton candy and gummy bear. Advertisements of flavoured products may enhance the appeal and encourage children and adolescents to buy and try nicotine products. The flavours may lower the perception of the harmfulness and addictiveness of nicotine products.
- Sleek, pocket-sized designs. ENDS and HTPs are extensively promoted as modern, high-tech and high-end lifestyle products, with minimalist designs, and high-profile product launches that portray them as attractive and harmless products. The sleek designs can be deceptive, available in shapes resembling a USB flash drive, and can be easily concealed in a young person’s hand.
- Cartoon characters. Some ENDS-related entities use cartoons and child-friendly imagery, such as unicorns, to brand their products and market sweet flavours.