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social media marketing

Tobacco being marketed and sold through Facebook, despite policy against such promotions

Researchers said the study reveals loopholes within Facebook’s tobacco-related policies that the company could potentially close.

TOBACCO PRODUCTS ARE being marketed and sold through unpaid content on Facebook, despite the social media company having policy that restricts or prohibits the promotion of such items.

Facebook policy says it doesn’t allow for paid tobacco advertisements but researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine have found extensive unpaid marketing via brand-sponsored Facebook pages.

The study, published in The BMJ Tobacco Control, concentrated on Facebook because younger people are active on social media and they are more likely to begin using tobacco products, with the risk of becoming addicted to nicotine.

The researchers searched for company-sponsored Facebook pages among 388 leading tobacco brands and found such pages for 108.

While the researchers identified pages for none of the 21 top traditional cigarette brands, they found that 10 of 14 online tobacco stores with company-maintained Facebook pages promoted popular cigarette brands, such as Marlboro and Camel, and included links to purchase them.


The researchers then evaluated the pages in the context of Facebook’s content policies that mention tobacco.

The commerce policy, which governs items, products and services sold on Facebook, prohibits the sale of tobacco and related paraphernalia.

However, the study found that among the 108 company-sponsored pages for leading brands of cigars, e-cigarettes, hookah tobacco and smokeless tobacco – more than half provided “shop now” buttons allowing users a way to buy their products.

The platform’s “page terms” – which apply to all Facebook pages, require restricted access to people under 18 from pages promoting the private sale of tobacco products but the researchers found a lack of safeguards.

The majority of the examined pages – 56% of the tobacco-brand-sponsored pages and 90% of the online vendors’ pages – failed to incorporate measures to screen out underage consumers.

Also, the advertising policy, which applies to paid ads and commercial content, does not permit images of tobacco but 107 of the 108 company-sponsored pages included such images.

Robert Jackler, MD, professor and chair of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery and principal investigator of Stanford Research Into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising, said:

“Clearly, there are a lot of policies with the laudable intent of keeping tobacco promotion and sales out of Facebook.”

He said the study reveals loopholes within Facebook’s tobacco-related policies that the company could potentially close.

“Our hope is that our study, by highlighting the degree to which tobacco marketers evade Facebook’s intended restrictions, will encourage the company to make a renewed effort to implement its well-intentioned policies.”

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