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British American Tobacco’s Use of Social Media Influencers to Sell Cigarettes Faces Legal Complaint in Brazil

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
September 26, 2018

WASHINGTON, DC – Tobacco giant British American Tobacco (BAT) faces a new legal complaint in Brazil for the company’s use of social media influencers to advertise cigarettes on social networks like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Brazil is the second country in which legal action has been initiated as the result of big tobacco’s secret use of social media to advertise cigarettes.

In Brazil and around the world, the tobacco industry’s marketing on social media once again demonstrates that despite their claims to be reformed, tobacco companies like British American Tobacco continue to aggressively market their deadly products – and have found new ways to secretly do so, exploiting the vast and global reach of social media networks like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Filed with the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Sao Paulo and Brazil’s Consumer Protection Agency, the Brazilian complaint details how social media campaigns for Kent, Lucky Strike and Dunhill cigarettes violate Brazilian laws meant to curb smoking rates. The complaint was filed by ACT Brazil, a leading Brazilian advocacy group, and was supported by several Brazilian and international public health groups. The social media campaigns identified in Brazil feature tobacco industry-driven hashtags and social media influencers hired to promote cigarette brands on social media, making it impossible for consumers to identify this tactic as paid advertisements for cigarettes.

According to the complaint, "marketing is done in a stealth manner, through various actions and strategies that try to circumvent … legislation.” In Brazil and around the world, Big Tobacco’s goal is clear: to make smoking cool to a new tech-savvy generation of young people and ensure lifelong customers.

The most commonly used hashtags in Brazil are #AheadBR, #Quemtepira, #TasteTheCity and #Readytoroll to advertise Kent, Dunhill and Lucky Strike cigarette brands on Facebook and Instagram, according to the complaint. The complaint exposes the extensive secret marketing strategies rolled out by BAT subsidiary Souza Cruz, which dominates the Brazilian cigarette market. An influencer who promoted Souza Cruz brands on social media stated in an interview that Souza Cruz wanted “to show that people who are normal, decent, cool…and even so they smoke.”

Today’s legal action against BAT in Brazil is the second to be filed against BAT. In August, nine leading public health groups filed a petition with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. The U.S. complaint documents more than 100 social media campaigns by multinational tobacco giants Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International and Imperial Brands. Combined, these deceptive social media campaigns promoting tobacco products have been viewed more than 25 billion times worldwide on Twitter alone – including 8.8 billion times in the United States according to social media research commissioned by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Brazil is unlikely to be the last country in which legal action is taken against BAT and other manufacturers as a result of their global social media marketing. Tobacco companies and their deadly marketing tactics remain the single greatest obstacle to curbing the global tobacco epidemic that kills seven million people each year. Without urgent action, tobacco use will kill one billion people around the world this century.