Background Youth and young adults frequently use social media and are susceptible to tobacco use. This study is the first to provide a systematic overview of how leading tobacco product brands use popular social media platforms.
Methods We identified 112 leading brands of e-cigarettes, hookah, cigars, cigarettes and smokeless tobacco based on sales and self-report user data. We searched for each brand on six platforms: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and Tumblr. In early 2019, we conducted a content analysis of each page, coding: age restrictions, warning display, page characteristics and post characteristics.
Results Cigarette brands were generally not present. Most e-cigarettes, hookah and cigar brands had pages on at least two platforms. One-third of smokeless brands had pages on at least one platform. Few brands had pages on Pinterest and Tumblr. Most pages had existed for 3–5 years. Overall, brand pages rarely used age gating, did not display health warnings, generally posted images of a product alone and often used hashtags unrelated to tobacco. Brands commonly used special features like ephemeral posts on Instagram and pop-up chat windows on Facebook. Many pages displayed images of young people and mentioned flavour. Median followers per brand ranged from about 1 000–10 000, and total followers summed across brands reached over 5 million on Facebook and Instagram alone.
Conclusions Leading brands of most tobacco product types use social media extensively. Several findings identify issues related to youth exposure to and appeal of tobacco social media marketing. Findings can inform tobacco education efforts and regulation.
- advertising and promotion
- electronic nicotine delivery devices
- non-cigarette tobacco products
- tobacco industry
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