New products, old tricks? Concerns big tobacco is targeting youngsters

New products, old tricks? Concerns big tobacco is targeting youngsters

Last year the Spanish boyband Dvicio were riding high after their latest album topped the charts. The “boys” – by now all in their late 20s or early 30s – were the summer’s cover stars for Like!, a tween magazine. Despite the pandemic, the band were still touring Spain. But these were gigs with a difference.

The concerts were sponsored by British American Tobacco (BAT), one of the world’s largest cigarette companies. At an exclusive gig in Madrid, the front rows were full of influencers there to promote Glo, BAT’s new heated tobacco product. Behind them sat people who had won tickets via a lottery on Glo’s Instagram account. For those who missed out, there was another chance to see Dvicio at the Starlite festival in Marbella – also sponsored by Glo.

The tobacco and nicotine industry has been lobbying with regulators around the world seeking favourable treatment for novel and emerging nicotine and tobacco products, namely heated tobacco products and e-cigarettes (ENDS). These products are marketed as “safer” alternatives to combustible cigarettes and as cessation aids for adult smokers. But as these sponsorships make clear, the industry has launched an aggressive US$ 1.4 billion marketing campaign that leans heavily on social media, concerts and sporting events to encourage young people to pick up a deadly tobacco habit that kills 8 million people a year.

The Bureau for Investigative Journalism has revealed that several tactics, employed in different countries around the world, are attracting a new generation including non-smokers to highly addictive nicotine and tobacco products – and that this seems to be a key part of BAT’s plans for yet more growth.

These tactics include:

  • Presenting nicotine products as cool and aspirational in a glossy youth-focused advertising campaign;
  • Paying social media influencers to promote e-cigarettes, nicotine pouches and tobacco on Instagram, notwithstanding the platform’s ban on the practice;
  • Sponsoring music and sporting events, including an F1 e-sports tournament that was streamed live on YouTube and could be watched by children;
  • And an international offer of free samples for nicotine pouches and e-cigarettes targeted at young people and non-smokers.

Dr Ruediger Krech, Director of the Department of Health Promotion at the World Health Organization, said: “The tobacco industry is constantly introducing new tobacco and nicotine products, which are undoubtedly harmful, to attract the next generation of addicts.”

Source: WHO