Has the tobacco industry been hit with yet another scandal? This may well be the case, according to recent, troubling findings from an international investigation which shows that Big Tobacco is paying influencers to promote various brands. What’s worse is the target audience: young people and regular users of social media.
An article in the New York Times recently revealed Big Tobacco’s alleged, illegal marketing practices. The article cited a study carried out by Robert V. Kozinets, professor of public relations at the University of Southern California (USC). The study attempts to prove that Big Tobacco has broken a law that prohibits companies from marketing cigarettes to minors.
The study suggests that Big Tobacco pays well-known influencers to use and display tobacco products on social media. In exchange for cash, such influencers are asked to market cigarette brands on Facebook and Instagram. Such hidden messaging is particularly pernicious because it contains no information about brand sponsorship.
Hidden, illegal advertising?
The investigation, financed by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, has uncovered problematic and potentially illegal business practices in six countries. Anonymous influencers have even admitted to receiving cash in exchange for promoting brands like Lucky Strike. Certain influencers received up to 200 Euros per month to publish photos and hashtags that promote various brands.
For Mr. Kozinets, the advertising campaign is part of an organized attempt to get around regulations that prohibit companies from marketing to minors. Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has decided to create a petition in hopes of putting an end to these dubious business practices. The association also accuses Big Tobacco of engaging in illegal advertising across various social networks.
For the time being, Big Tobacco denies the charges. Indeed, Phillip Morris International, British American Tobacco, JT International and Imperial Brands have brushed aside the accusations. These companies say they have never paid influencers to promote their brands. But can we really trust Big Tobacco?