Online tobacco ads: 40% of people affected are under 25 years old

According to a report from Tobacco Free Kids, manufacturers Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco have targeted more than sixty countries since 2018 to advertise their new products on social media. Although tobacco companies claim they are not targeting younger generations, 40% of the audience exposed to these ads is under 25 years old.

The report focuses on the marketing strategies of two players in the tobacco and nicotine industry on the main social networks: Instagram, Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), TikTok and YouTube. First, British American Tobacco (BAT) for its Vuse e-cigarette and its nicotine pouches (Velo). Then Philip Morris International with IQOS, its heated tobacco device(1).

150 million young people under the age of 25 are targeted by advertisements

According to Tobacco Free Kids, content promoting Velo, Vuse and IQOS has been viewed more than 3.4 billion times on social media by more than 385 million people worldwide. Of this entire population exposed to manufacturers’ advertising, 40% were under the age of 25, which equates to 150 million people. These ads also reach minors, as 16 million young people under the age of 18 were exposed to these ads.

“Immersive” advertising strategies for new tobacco and nicotine products

Manufacturers deploy a large-scale advertising operation on social networks to create an immersive “surround sound (2)” marketing effect, structured around several strategies and distribution channels:

  • Direct product marketing : British American Tobacco and Philip Morris operate at least 56 social media accounts in 45 countries. These accounts, each of which can have tens of thousands of followers, distribute advertising and promotional content.
  • Influencers : The tobacco industry mobilizes normative figures to promote its new products. In order to reach the widest possible audience, these influencers come from different backgrounds: from the world of art and music (actors, musicians, DJs, etc.), fashion, “lifestyle” (fitness, travel, etc.) or even from the world of sports. In general, the mobilization of large influencers aims to increase brand visibility, while small influencers are used more for access to narrowly specialized targets.
  • Paid sponsorships : This strategy allows manufacturers to expose web users to links that direct them to purchase pages for their new products. If paid sponsorship of tobacco and nicotine is not a priori allowed on Facebook and Instagram, BAT and Philip Morris do not respect these rules.
  • Sports event : The cooperation of the tobacco industry with major sports brands, especially automobiles, is a strategy that manufacturers have been developing for several decades and continues online.
  • Area of ​​art and creation : manufacturers offer collaborations and partnerships with brands and personalities from culture, art and fashion, such as Elle, Vice or Conde Nast Traveler.
  • Promotional offers : Philip Morris and British American Tobacco are also using digital platforms to develop promotional offers through competitions, gift cards and promotional codes.

At stake is a complete ban on cross-border advertising

For Tobacco Free Kids, the aggressive advertising campaigns of the tobacco and nicotine industry must be subject to stricter regulation, in particular a ban on cross-border advertising. According to Tobacco Free Kids, the 183 parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) will meet in February 2024 in Panama, where governments will consider adopting specific guidelines for cross-border digital advertising, including on social media. These guidelines could help countries more effectively ban cross-border advertising of tobacco and nicotine products, including on social media.

Keywords: Online ads, Philip Morris International, British American

©Tobacco Free Generation


(1) Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, #SponsoredByBigTobacco Tobacco & Nicotine Marketing on Social Media, 08/12/2023, (accessed 12/12/2023)

(2) “Surround sound” can be translated as “multi-channel sound” and refers to a strategy aimed at creating continuous background noise.

National Committee Against Smoking |

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