Philip Morris Caught Red-Handed Marketing IQOS to Young People on Social Media

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
May 10, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC – A new investigative report by Reuters exposes how Philip Morris International has aggressively marketed their IQOS heated tobacco product on Instagram and other social media platforms, reaching millions of young people across the globe. This report demonstrates Philip Morris’ utter lack of sincerity when they promise to market IQOS only to existing smokers and not to youth and nonsmokers – a promise the FDA relied on when it recently authorized the sale of IQOS in the United States.

In an act of preemptive damage control, Philip Morris announced before publication of the Reuters story that the company was suspending “product-related digital influencer actions.” Once again, Philip Morris is changing its behavior only when caught red-handed.

Their claim to market IQOS only to existing smokers has been exposed as the fraud that it is. For months, Philip Morris has marketed IQOS on social media to millions of young people, and they didn’t stop until they were caught. While Philip Morris tried to spin the issue as an isolated mistake of paying a 21-year-old social media influencer in Russia, Reuters documented multiple examples of how they have marketed IQOS on Instagram, often using young, attractive influencers (the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has also documented many instances of IQOS marketing on social media). The reality is that this is an aggressive marketing strategy rolled out across dozens of countries. From March 2018 to March 2019, social media posts using the hashtag #iqos have been viewed 179 million times on Instagram and Twitter (according to Keyhole, a social media analytics tool).

In addition, Philip Morris continues to ignore other ways that they market IQOS to young people, including the beer fests, beach parties and fashion shows they’ve sponsored in other countries and that they use to present IQOS as a fun and trendy lifestyle product. Philip Morris has pursued a strategy of marketing IQOS in a way that reaches and appeals to the broadest range of customers, including young people (see examples of IQOS marketing worldwide).

It isn’t shocking that Philip Morris claims it isn’t marketing IQOS to youth. This is the same company that claims it has never marketed Marlboro or any other cigarette to youth. This problem will not be solved by accepting Philip Morris’ claims of innocence. In the U.S., the FDA must aggressively monitor the marketing of IQOS when the product is introduced later this year. If Philip Morris markets IQOS in the U.S. using social media and other tactics they’ve used to reach young people in other countries, the FDA should immediately revoke the company’s marketing order. Other countries where IQOS is sold must stringently enforce prohibitions and restrictions on tobacco marketing and ensure they apply to IQOS.