Pro-tobacco content on Facebook and YouTube is glamorising smoking among the young, warn health group.
Leading health organisations have expressed alarm at how the internet is being used to promote smoking.
Tobacco companies deny using the online world to market their brands, but there is mounting concern that social networking sites are glamorising smoking, especially among young people.
British American Tobacco (BAT) has been forced to conduct a damage limitation exercise after it emerged that several of its employees had established fan sites on Facebook for the company’s Lucky Strike and Dunhill brands, apparently without the company’s knowledge.
iKineo boasted on its website that it had
“extended the Lucky Strike campaign into the digital space, using it to mobilise a powerful underground movement to advocate the brand”.
Fresh concerns about the tobacco firms’ use of cyberspace were raised last week when it emerged that the annual Global Tobacco Networking Forum had held a workshop on social media for thousands of delegates in the cigarette industry. Those attending also heard a talk on “Social Media in Regulated Markets” from Jason Falls, a leading expert on internet branding.
In an emailed response to the Observer, Falls said he was unable to discuss his talk, citing the conference’s rules barring speakers from discussing the subject with the media. But Falls emailed a copy of a presentation that he gives to other clients in which he discusses how “it is entirely possible to leverage social media marketing and the social web as a company in a regulated industry”.
The presentation notes: “Regulations and guidelines are not impediments. They are necessary and opportunities to innovate in the social media space.”
Professor Terence Stephenson, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said:
“I would like the people who are responsible for these new forms of social media to be more responsible in the content they allow, especially content which glamorises and promotes smoking to young people.”
A BAT spokeswoman insisted it was not company policy to use social networking sites to promote its brands after the allegations first surfaced in an academic paper at the University of Sydney in Australia. “
Our employees, agencies and service providers should never use social media to promote our tobacco brands,”
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