Young Australians are being increasingly exposed to tobacco advertising and branding online, most commonly on Facebook, a new study reveals.
This comes despite tobacco advertising being banned in traditional media.
The study by the Cancer Institute NSW shows almost a third of young people aged 12-24 in NSW and Queensland were exposed to online tobacco advertising in 2013, increasing from 21% in 2010. The results demonstrate levels of exposure are increasing over time.
In addition to advertising, more than a quarter (26%) said they had seen online tobacco branding.
Manager for Cancer Prevention at the Cancer Institute NSW, Anita Dessaix, says this exposure poses a danger to young people in Australia.
“At a stage when youth smoking is at an all time low, the exposure to tobacco branding and advertising online could reverse efforts to reduce smoking rates further,” she says.
Tobacco control has been a great success story here in Australia, particularly for young people.
“Over the past couple of decades we have seen rapidly declining youth smoking rates, with only 6.7 per cent of young Australians smoking daily,” Anita says.
“This study shows that younger never-smokers who saw tobacco advertising and branding online were more likely to be susceptible to smoking, which is concerning given the already well-established link between tobacco company marketing and smoking susceptibility.”
How is it happening on Facebook?
The paper, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, notes promotion of tobacco products is not permitted by the owners of many social media sites, including Facebook.
So how are Tobacco companies still able to use these to sites to increase the visibility of their products?
What Facebook doesn’t prohibit is unpaid promotion through individuals sharing content among their friends and connections.
Additionally, tobacco companies can still operate branded pages and channels on social media portals.
The study mentions a recent analysis of 70 cigarette brands on social media that revealed more than 238 Facebook fan pages with more than 1 million likes.
What’s on YouTube?
The paper also reported increases in the proportion of youth seeing tobacco branding on YouTube, where pro-smoking imagery and tobacco promotions are well-documented.
YouTube doesn’t allow tobacco product advertising either, but ‘advertising’ only applies to paid forms of promotion on the site.
These are things like advertisements embedded in popular videos or advertisements that appear for certain key word searches.
Outside of this, tobacco content can still be uploaded, shared and consumed by people around the world with no restrictions on age.
What can we do?
Anita Dessaix says ongoing campaigns targeting online realms can help counter the message from tobacco companies.
“To reduce the impact of online tobacco advertising and branding on young Australians, we need to start looking at counter-marketing tactics and monitoring efforts.”
“Continuing to build awareness around the effects of tobacco smoking in new media is crucial to further strengthen anti-smoking behaviours.”
The paper notes ensuring tobacco advertising bans are inclusive of internet-based media is essential, as well as cooperation among signatory nations to the World Health Organization Framework Convention Alliance on Tobacco Control.
Read the full paper at the Journal of Medical Internet Research.
Support and information to help quit smoking is available from the Quitline (13 78 48) or via the iCanQuit website: www.icanquit.com.au