Background Facebook has a comprehensive set of policies intended to inhibit promotion and sales of tobacco products. Their effectiveness has yet to be studied.
Methods Leading tobacco brands (388) were identified via Nielsen and Ranker databases and 108 were found to maintain brand-sponsored Facebook pages. Key indicators of alignment with Facebook policy were evaluated.
Results Purchase links (eg, ‘shop now’ button) on brand-sponsored pages were found for hookah tobaccos (41%), e-cigarettes (74%), smokeless (50%) and cigars (31%). Sales promotions (eg, discount coupons) were present in hookah tobacco (48%), e-cigarette (76%) and cigar (69%) brand-sponsored pages. While conventional cigarettes did not maintain brand-sponsored pages, they were featured in 80% of online tobacco vendors’ Facebook pages. The requirement for age gating, to exclude those <18 from viewing tobacco promotion, was absent in hookah tobacco (78%), e-cigarette (62%) and cigar (21%) brand-sponsored pages and for 90% of online tobacco stores which promote leading cigarette brands (eg, Marlboro, Camel). Many of the brand-sponsored tobacco product pages had thousands of ‘likes’.
Conclusions It is laudable that Facebook has policies intended to interdict tobacco promotion throughout its platform. Nevertheless, widespread tobacco promotion and sales were found at variance with the company’s policies governing advertising, commerce, page content and under age access. Vetting could be improved by automated screening in partnership with human reviewers.
- tobacco industry
- social marketing
- advertising and promotion
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Contributors RKJ conceived the project and is the primary author of the paper. VYL conducted most of the Facebook surveys. RALC surveyed the online tobacco vendors. DR assisted with the data analysis and manuscript editing.
Funding Stanford Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising.
Disclaimer Calculated (or Derived) based on data from The Nielsen Company (US), LLC and marketing databases provided by the Kilts Center for Marketing Data Center at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business. The conclusions drawn from the Nielsen data are those of the researchers and do not reflect the views of Nielsen. Nielsen is not responsible for, had no role in, and was not involved in analyzing and preparing the results reported herein.
Competing interests None declared.
Patient consent Not required.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.