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Tobacco Industry Uses Facebook to Bypass Marketing Regulations and Facilitate Bidi Sales in India
Posted on November 10, 2021
A new study from global public health organization Vital Strategies found that the tobacco industry was using Facebook to facilitate bidis sales, bypassing India’s COTPA regulations designed to protect young people and consumers from harmful marketing. The report “Selling Death on Social Media: How Bidis Are Reaching Consumers Online” details digital media monitoring data with 344 instances of bidi social media marketing between December 2020 and August 2021, almost exclusively via Facebook (98%).
The main findings of the report include:
- Facebook hosts at least 30 separate pages for bidis businesses. Many of these companies seem to use Facebook pages to facilitate sales.
- Almost a quarter (24%) of social media marketing bidis used posts describing bidis as part of an ambitious, fun or luxurious lifestyle.
- A fifth (20%) of bidi social media marketers used posts related to celebrating the community, such as birthdays of famous people and religious holidays, including Holi and Eid, presumably in an effort to normalize l smoking while on vacation and connecting it with family and community.
- In 79% of cases, bidis products were directly marketed with clear product images. This is compared to 9% of other smokers and less than 1% of smokeless products, which are often marketed indirectly through more clandestine means to circumvent current advertising regulations.
Released at the COP9 global tobacco conference, the report comes as social media marketing by tobacco and bidis companies is a growing public health problem, especially as evidence shows it is causing a increased likelihood of smoking among young people.. Of the 267 million tobacco users in India, nearly 72 million adults smoke bidis, and almost half (47%) of consumers have smoked their first bidis before their 10th birthday. Easily accessible nationwide and cheaper than cigarettes, it is estimated that eight times more bidis than cigarettes are sold in India.
Nandita Murukutla, Vice President, Global Policy and Research, New York, Vital Strategies, said: âThe evidence is clear: tobacco marketing increases tobacco consumption. This evidence has formed the basis of national and international regulations that prohibit or restrict tobacco advertising, including Article 13 of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC). However, when the CCSA came into effect in 2005, the use of social media was in its infancy. As advertising regulations in traditional media have taken hold, the industry is migrating its online marketing where national regulations were less clear. With the ninth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO FCTC taking place virtually this week, this report is a call to action for governments to monitor and address tobacco marketing in digital media. It is also a call to social media companies, Facebook in particular, to end the marketing of tobacco which facilitates sales of this deadly product. “
Vaishakhi Mallik, Associate Director, Communications, India, Vital Strategies, said: âSocial media giants have a duty of care, especially to their young users. Although bidis are more harmful to your health than other tobacco products, they have been under the regulatory radar for far too long. Our research confirms the need for more careful and stringent monitoring of the branding and marketing efforts of the bidi industry – both online and offline – in accordance with Section 5 of the Indian Cigarette Act and other tobacco products (COTPA) 2003. That almost half of ten year olds have tried bidi smoking is unacceptable. The deceptive nature of the industry’s marketing, now on youth-friendly social media platforms that often lack age verification, could exacerbate this health crisis. The bidis industry and the technology platforms that enable them must be held accountable. “
Amit Yadav, Senior Technical Advisor – Tobacco Control at the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union) said, “The Union congratulates Vital Strategies on this one-of-a-kind report which claims that bidis companies openly exploit social media platforms to advertise their harmful products, which is in violation of COTPA, the anti-tobacco legislation. from the Indian government. We need to approach bidi online marketing so that offline application is more efficient. This data continues to support our efforts, many of our partners and state governments to strengthen and enforce tobacco control measures in India, while simultaneously providing policy makers and implementers with factual evidence of publicity and of bidi marketing. Such evidence will give credibility to tobacco control programs, which can then enable political action. “
Selling Death on Social Media: How Bidis Reach Consumers Online is based on data collected through the Tobacco Enforcement and Reporting Movement (TERM), a digital media monitoring system used to track tobacco marketing in online through systematic analysis of online news, articles and social media. messages and conversations. Laws prohibit direct and indirect tobacco advertising in India, but TERM exposes that tobacco marketing on social media continues to be prevalent, which may be due to the unregulated nature of social media advertising. . This marketing is often designed to attract young people by associating tobacco use with celebrations and popular events.