Tobacco Ban on Facebook/Instagram must meet global standards

July 25 2019 – GGTC welcomes the Facebook / Instagram policy prohibiting users and groups from selling, transferring or gifting tobacco products including hookah, e-cigarettes, and tobacco paraphernalia; but finds that the policy falls short of global tobacco treaty standards. Based on the updated policy, tobacco companies and social influencers can still advertise “to those 18 or above” on Facebook and Instagram.

According to Bungon Rittiphakdee, the Executive Director: “Given the global consensus on the tobacco industry’s nefarious marketing tactics, allowing tobacco advertising, even if age-restricted, could be perceived as agreeing to be complicit in marketing deadly products and encouraging youth addiction.  This is particularly concerning because FB and Instagram have been used by tobacco companies to lure adolescents.”

The global consensus refers to the tobacco control treaty, the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which mandates 181 governments to have a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising promotion and sponsorship, including cross border advertising; for governments that have constitutional restrictions on banning ads, treaty guidelines recommend requiring information on tobacco industry’s marketing activities. The treaty also extends the advertising ban to ENDS, Novel Tobacco Products and Waterpipes. The global community has recognized the fundamental conflict of interest between tobacco industry and public health, and tied FCTC implementation to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Over 70% of governments in the world fought hard to have tobacco advertisements banned in radio, TV, print, and promotions,[i] it is a big global setback to find tobacco advertising in the what is now the most pervasive marketing platform that has cross-border impact. We are calling on Facebook to avoid falling prey to tobacco industry tactics by further updating its policy to meet global standards,” adds Bungon.

On July 24, 2019, Facebook / Instagram applied its new policy on restricting sales of alcohol and tobacco, including hookah, e-cigarettes or tobacco devices, and on limiting content related to the same. Previously, Facebook’s commerce policies prohibit the sale of tobacco in Facebook Marketplace, a local user-to-user sales platform.  The ban is now extended to regular posts from private users (organic content): Any private person is prohibited from all private sales, trades, transfers and gifting of alcohol and tobacco products, on Facebook and Instagram platforms; and this applies to Facebook groups created for the sale of alcohol and tobacco. Pursuant to the new policy, Facebook groups selling / marketing tobacco have been taken down.

However, the new policy still falls short of WHO FCTC standards. According to a Facebook spokesperson “a combination of technology, human review, and reports from our community to find and remove any content that violates these policies” and only content specifically intended to sell alcohol and tobacco is impacted by this new rule.  Hence, private users can still talk about tobacco or post other content related to tobacco, but not market or sell the same. Companies / brands and paid influencers are allowed to post content related to the sale or transfer of these products but these must be restricted to adults 18 or older.

Tobacco control groups led by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK) have also condemned the updated policy as being insufficient as it fails to ban outright the corporate marketing and influencer marketing of tobacco products, and fails to address Facebook users’ “promotion” of the products especially e-cigarettes, and focused only on “sales or gifting.” Groups claim that the policy also fails to respond to reports of tobacco companies’ social marketing strategy to attract youths to addiction as reported by The New York Times in August 2018 and by Reuters on May 11, which focused on IQOS marketing on social media. In Brazil and the United Kingdom formal complaints have been filed against British American Tobacco (BAT) for its social media marketing of Lucky Strike cigarettes and Vype e-cigarettes, respectively. In the US, the youth e-cigarette epidemic was attributed to social media marketing, where a study by Stanford University researchers concluded that Juul marketing was “patently youth oriented.” Tobacco companies have also started to revive cross-border advertisements through global car races (Formula One, Moto GP) but this was disallowed in Australia and France.

 

Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control (GGTC) aims to address the single greatest obstacle to tobacco control, tobacco industry interference. It is a joint initiative of the School of Global Studies, Thammasat University and Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) and has been designated as the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Secretariat as the Knowledge Hub on Article 5.3, (treaty provision on countering tobacco industry interference).  GGTC is also a key partner of the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products (STOP).

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

  1. Decision FCTC/COP7(4). Control and prevention of waterpipe tobacco products. Conference of the Parties to the WHO FCTC, Seventh Session, Delhi, India, 7–12 November 2016. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/fctc/cop/cop7/FCTC_COP7(4)_EN.pdf?ua=1.
  2. Decision FCTC/COP8(22). Novel and emerging tobacco products. Conference of the Parties to the WHO FCTC, Eighth Session, Geneva, Switzerland, 1-6 October 2018. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/fctc/cop/sessions/cop8/FCTC__COP8(22).pdf?ua=1.
  3. Report by WHO. Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems and Electronic Non-Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS/ENNDS). Conference of the Parties to the WHO FCTC, Seventh Session, Delhi, India, 7–12 November 2016. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/fctc/cop/cop7/FCTC_COP_7_11_EN.pdf.
  4. Resolution UNGA/RES/66/2. Political Declaration of the High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases. 66th Session, 24 January 2012. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/nmh/events/un_ncd_summit2011/political_declaration_en.pdf.
  5. Jackler RK, Chau C, Getachew BD. JUUL advertising over its first three years on the market. SRITA White Paper. 2019. Retrieved from http://tobacco.stanford.edu/tobacco_main/publications/JUUL_Marketing_Stanford.pdf.

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[i] Only about 20 countries in the world do not restrict TV radio and print ads. See 2018 Global progress report on implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2018. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.