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Characteristics of Cheyenne little filtered cigar Instagram ads, 2019–2020
  1. Erin L Mead-Morse1,
  2. Cristine D Delnevo2,
  3. Binu Singh2,
  4. Olivia A Wackowski2
  1. 1Department of Medicine, UConn Health, Farmington, Connecticut, USA
  2. 2Center for Tobacco Studies, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Olivia A Wackowski, Center for Tobacco Studies, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA; wackowol{at}cts.rutgers.edu

Abstract

Introduction Little is known about little filtered cigar (LFC) marketing on social media. We examined the characteristics of Instagram posts by Cheyenne—a popular LFC brand—from 2019 to 2020.

Methods We conducted a content analysis of 323 images posted in 2019 and 2020. Descriptive statistics were examined, and χ2 and Fisher’s exact tests were used to test differences by year.

Results Most posts (76.0%) showed ≥1 pack and/or LFC stick, which look highly similar to cigarette packs and sticks. The pack was often flavoured (62.2%). Images of lit LFC sticks increased from 2019 (12.2%) to 2020 (26.7%, p=0.005). Warning labels were present on the ad in 79.9% of posts, but always at the bottom, and used the same single warning statement that they are not a safe alternative to cigarettes. The depiction of people nearly doubled from 2019 (18.1%) to 2020 (34.8%, p=0.001), and women (50.6%) were more commonly depicted than men (32.1%). Popular depictions and themes included the outdoors (57.6%) and seasonal imagery (36.2%) among others.

Discussion Cheyenne actively used Instagram to market its product and grow its brand. Posts seemed designed to promote the similarity of their LFC to cigarettes, through depictions of cig-a-like packs/sticks. Although warning labels were prevalent on Cheyenne Instagram posts, the warnings were not compliant with FDA warning guidelines and might have been counterproductive by emphasising their viability as cigarette alternatives rather than their dangerous health effects. Future surveillance is needed, and regulation of LFC advertising on social media may be warranted.

  • Advertising and Promotion
  • Media
  • Non-cigarette tobacco products
  • Packaging and Labelling
  • Social marketing

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WHAT IS ALREADY KNOWN ON THIS TOPIC

  • Cigar companies are using social media to boost their brands and market their products to young people.

  • No studies to date have examined the content of industry social media posts about little filtered cigars (LFCs), which we aimed to address by examining Instagram posts by Cheyenne—a popular LFC brand—from 2019 to 2020.

WHAT THIS STUDY ADDS

  • We found high use of LFC pack/stick images, flavoured packs, and outdoor imagery, and more depictions of women than men.

  • Warning labels were not compliant with FDA guidelines and referred to LFC’s viability as cigarette alternatives rather than specific health risks.

HOW THIS STUDY MIGHT AFFECT RESEARCH, PRACTICE AND/OR POLICY

  • As additional tobacco regulatory efforts are used to move smokers away from cigarettes, continued surveillance and consideration of LFCs, which may be used as cigarette substitutes, are needed.

Introduction

As cigarette smoking has become more highly regulated and expensive, the tobacco industry has used little filtered cigars (LFCs) as cheap substitutes to maintain and attract new smokers while circumventing cigarette restrictions,1 2 such as the ban on flavoured cigarettes in the USA and ban on menthol cigarettes in the UK.3 Although labelled as cigars, LFCs look more like cigarettes. Designed with cigarette smokers in mind, LFCs became popular in the USA in the early 1970s, following a cigarette advertising ban1 4 and saw a resurgence in the late 1990s, as the tobacco industry used them to circumvent cigarette regulation,2 such as cigarette tax increases and the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA).5

One popular LFC brand that emerged after the MSA was Cheyenne Little Cigars, manufactured by Cheyenne International. Cheyenne LFCs are among, if not the, top selling LFC in the USA, and from 2008 to 2015 their sales increased by 154%.6 Cheyenne also manufactures cigarettes, and its LFC marketing blurs the line between cigar and cigarette. Cheyenne LFCs look highly similar to cigarettes in size, shape, use of a filter, and packaging.7

When the US Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act was signed in 2009, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) noted that the Act’s characterising flavour ban applied to all tobacco products that met the definition of a ‘cigarette’, even if they were labelled as cigars.8 No action was taken until the 2016 deeming rule extended FDA’s authority to cigars, at which point the FDA sent warning letters to four LFC manufacturers for selling flavoured cigarettes labelled as cigars, including Cheyenne.8 However, the FDA took no follow-up action.8

Meanwhile, cigar companies have continued advertising their products, leveraging social media, including the visually focused platform Instagram.9 Exposure to tobacco-related social media has been associated with greater susceptibility, intention and use of tobacco products.9–11 Cheyenne launched an Instagram account in January 2019, entering a new marketing channel. Although a few studies have examined the content of industry social media posts about cigarillos,9 12 none to date have examined LFCs. In this study, we examined Cheyenne’s first 2 years of Instagram advertising (2019–2020).

Methods

We conducted a content analysis of all images posted in 2019 (n=188) and 2020 (n=135) on Cheyenne’s official Instagram account (N=323). Collection of images occurred in May 2020 and March 2021, respectively. For each post, Cheyenne posted only one image, which we treated as the unit of analysis. A coding guide was developed inductively based on preliminary iterative review of posts by the study team, as well as our previous experience in coding features of tobacco advertising (see table 1, and online supplemental appendix for coding guide and online supplemental figure 1).13–15 Initial coding was completed by one primary coder. Approximately 20% of posts were double-coded by an additional coder to assess inter-rater reliability (n=65), with high agreement (average kappa=0.95). Descriptive results are presented, and χ2 or Fisher’s exact tests were conducted to examine differences by year.

Table 1

Cheyenne Instagram ad characteristics, by year

Results

Presence and type of tobacco-related imagery

About three-fourths of posts (76.4%) showed ≥1 Cheyenne pack and/or LFC stick. Most posts (71.2%) showed ≥1 pack, with 62.2% of all posts showing any flavour (with fruit flavours dominating) and 14.9% showing classic tobacco (table 1). Pack depictions did not differ by year. About 32% of posts showed LFC sticks, visible inside an open pack (8.4%), outside of a pack (10.2%), both inside and outside of a pack (7.7%), or with no pack visible (5.2%). The depiction of sticks both inside and outside of a pack increased from 2019 (3.7%) to 2020 (13.3%, p=0.008). Further, 18.3% of posts featured a lit stick; this was more frequent in 2020 (26.7%) than 2019 (12.2%, p=0.005). No other changes in the depiction of sticks were seen. Posts in 2020 more frequently included images of lighters or matches (15.6%) than those from 2019 (8.0%, p=0.033).

Presence of warning labels

Most posts (79.9%) included a warning label on the ad itself, with no difference by year. Posts that did not include a warning label also did not include any image of a pack or stick. In other words, all posts that depicted a pack or stick also depicted a warning label on the ad, which was true in both years. All posts with a warning label presented the warning at the bottom (sized at approximately 20% of the image) and used the same statement: ‘WARNING: Cigars are not a safe alternative to cigarettes’. Among posts in which an image of a pack was featured (n=230), 86.1% depicted warning labels on the packs. These packs carried the broader range of warning statements, although were visually small. Among all posts (N=323), posts in 2020 more frequently depicted warnings on packs (68.9%) than those from 2019 (55.9%, p=0.008).

Presence of models

About 25% of posts featured a person, though most of these (67.9%) did not show a face. The percentage of posts featuring a person nearly doubled between 2019 (18.1%) and 2020 (34.8%, p=0.001). Among these posts (n=81), images including women were more frequent (50.6%) than those including men (32.1%), with no difference by year. The percentage of images showing a person holding or touching a stick/pack tripled between 2019 (10.6%) and 2020 (29.6%, p=0.008).

Presence of non-tobacco-related imagery and relationship marketing features

Over half of posts (57.6%) depicted the outdoors, including water scenery (13.6%) and other nature scenes (32.8%). The use of outdoor imagery did not change by year. Images frequently made use of other relationship marketing features and lifestyle associations including tie-ins to seasons and holidays (36.2%), sweepstakes promotions (11.8%), food (10.2%), alcohol (9.3%), recipes (4.0%) and astrology (3.4%), with no change by year.

Discussion

Our analysis of Cheyenne Instagram advertising found that most posts showed at least one pack, and a third showed LFC sticks, with few changes from 2019 to 2020. A warning label was visible on most of the packs depicted—though the small font size made them difficult to read—and the percentage increased from 2019 to 2020. Posts frequently shared images of the outdoors similar to traditional themes used in cigarette advertising prior to the MSA.16

The frequent depiction of Cheyenne packs and sticks in these images is important, given their strong resemblance to traditional cigarette packs and sticks. Such imagery may facilitate or reinforce perceptions that LFCs are cigarette substitutes.8 The common depictions of flavoured styles were not surprising, given the popularity of flavoured cigars, and that flavouring is an important advantage of LFCs over cigarettes.4

Our finding that 25% of images showed people is higher than a study of 2016 Swisher posts,17 but lower than other studies of 2018 cigar-related posts.9 12 This may be due to the different brands examined, source of posts (ie, industry vs users) and years. Nevertheless, our results suggest a trend in Cheyenne advertising towards increased depiction of people, particularly people touching the stick or pack. Future research could examine if these depictions work to attract users and model and normalise use. Furthermore, we found that women were most often pictured. In contrast, a study of Backwoods-related posts found more depictions of men,12 suggesting that different brands may target different genders, as done with cigarettes.16

In contrast to our finding regarding the frequent depiction of warning labels on ads, other research finds few cigar brands routinely display a warning label on Instagram ads.9 Although Deeming Rule requirements for cigar warning labels have been struck down because of industry lawsuits, companies can voluntarily comply.15 18 While Cheyenne appears to be more compliant with posting warnings, several characteristics likely decrease their effectiveness. First, warning labels were consistently displayed at the bottom, in contrast to guidelines that they be at the top. Second, they did not comply with the guidance to rotate messages, instead using the same general warning (‘cigars are not a safe alternative to cigarettes’) that does not warn about specific risks, as do other cigar warnings.18 Indeed, this cigar warning might be less believable and effective than others.19 20 Furthermore, this message might remind audiences about perceived similarities to cigarettes, potentially reinforcing perceptions that LFCs are a viable alternative. More broadly, if LFCs function and can be classified as cigarettes, future efforts should consider whether they be required to carry graphic warning labels like cigarettes.

Our study had several limitations. First, we only examined posts on Instagram from 2019 to 2020, its first 2 years on the platform. Reach was likely still limited (with about 3800 account followers by early 2022), and the results might not be generalisable to more recent years and posts on other platforms. Future research could examine if the content of Cheyenne posts changed after the FDA announced plans to prohibit characterising flavours in cigars and questioned e-cigarette companies about their social media marketing practices in 2021. Second, downloading of posts occurred 3–5 months after each year (2019, 2020) versus in real time, which could have led to some deleted posts not being included in the analysis. Third, we focused on one popular LFC company. Future research could investigate the use of social media by other popular LFC brands. Lastly, the study did not examine level of user engagement with the posts, which could be an important area for future research.

Overall, this study found that Cheyenne, a popular LFC brand, actively used Instagram advertising to showcase its product offerings and build its growing brand, with a few changes from 2019 to 2020. As additional tobacco regulatory efforts are used to move smokers away from cigarettes (eg, higher taxes, graphic warning labels, menthol cigarette ban, reduced nicotine requirements), continued surveillance and consideration of LFCs, which may be used as cigarette substitutes, are also warranted.

Ethics statements

Patient consent for publication

Ethics approval

Not applicable.

Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Ms Zeinab Safi for her assistance in coding the study materials.

References

Footnotes

  • Contributors ELM contributed to the study design (including instrument development) and manuscript writing and editing. CDD contributed to study design/conceptualisation, obtained study funding and contributed to manuscript writing and editing. BS contributed to the study design, data coding and analysis. OAW contributed to study design/conceptualisation, obtained study funding, led data analysis and contributed to manuscript writing and editing.

  • Funding This work was supported by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under Award Number U54CA229973. Contributions by ELM were supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the FDA under Award Number K01DA048494.

  • Disclaimer The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funding organisations.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.