New Facebook/Instagram Policy on Tobacco Marketing Turns Blind Eye to Biggest Problem: Influencer Marketing

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
July 25, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC – The new Facebook and Instagram policy on tobacco marketing, published by Facebook and reported by CNN, is inadequate and will be ineffective in prohibiting tobacco companies from using influencer marketing to promote their products to young people in the United States and around the world. This policy ignores the primary way tobacco companies are promoting their products on social media, which is through rampant influencer marketing.

In May, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids joined more than 125 public health and other organizations from 48 countries in calling on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat to immediately end the promotion of cigarettes, e-cigarettes and all other tobacco products on their platforms, including prohibiting the use of social media influencers. Our organizations urged the social media companies to strictly enforce their existing policies prohibiting paid advertising for tobacco products on their platforms, to extend these policies to prohibit the use of paid influencers to promote tobacco products, and to ensure the policies include all tobacco products and e-cigarettes.

The new policy by Facebook and Instagram falls far short of these needed actions. Facebook and Instagram ban paid advertisements for tobacco and e-cigarettes on both platforms. However, the policy does not extend to content posted by social media influencers – a loophole that tobacco companies have and will continue to abuse.  

In recent years, tobacco companies have increasingly used social media to target young people. Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco have flooded Instagram and Facebook with ads for cigarettes like Marlboro and Lucky Strike and heated cigarettes like IQOS and Glo. Similarly, Juul has fueled a youth e-cigarette epidemic in the U.S., driven by the company’s “patently youth-oriented” social media advertising. In the absence of meaningful policies from social media platforms, tobacco companies have found a way to turn today’s Instagram post into this generation’s “Marlboro Man.”

Tobacco use is the world’s leading cause of preventable death, killing eight million people around the world each year. Social media marketing of tobacco products threatens progress in curbing this epidemic. Facebook and Instagram must decide whether they want to protect young social media users or be complicit in this public health crisis.