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Promotion of tobacco products on Facebook: policy versus practice


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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