Isn’t it Illegal? (Smoking Ads)

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Isn’t it Illegal? (Smoking Ads)

Aug 22, 2019

Our twelfth minisode of “The Creative Influencer” podcast is available today for download on iTunes, Spotify, and premier platforms everywhere.  In minisodes, we answer questions that our listeners have emailed Jon.  In this minisode, Jon discusses the wild-wild-west of advertising on Social Media when it comes to “adult themes” such as smoking, vaping and drinking.


A transcript of the episode follows:

This is Season two, Minisode twelve. Today’s email comes from Jade.

Subject: Isn’t it Illegal?

Hi Jon,

I saw some headlines recently about Instagram banning alcohol and tobacco sales. What are the rules for advertising that stuff? Isn’t it already illegal?


Hi Jade.

While it’s been illegal to advertise tobacco on television since 1971, it’s not illegal on Social Media. In fact, advertising on social media is still very much the wild-wild-west when it comes to rules and regulations.

Instagram banning sales links to purchase cigarettes falls under the heading of self-regulation. That’s what’s been in the news lately. In my view, that’s a tiny step that does not do very much at all—very little to address the fundamental issue. And that is: Social media platforms – especially YouTube and Instagram – serve advertisements with “adult themes” such as smoking, vaping or drinking to a ton of eyeballs that shouldn’t be seeing them.

There’s little in the way of regulating this—which is why I call it the wild-wild-west. There is nothing legally preventing an adult smoker from posting a selfie with a cigarette in his mouth, and for that photo to appear in the feed of a minor.

Algorithmic filtering by the platforms won’t solve the problem of content being available and accessible. Even though they probably shouldn’t, people can still post a photo while holding a cigarette.

But on Instagram, it’s never been about selling. It’s always been about marketing.

And I’m going to quote from USC Professor Rob Kozinetz, who pointed out in an article about cigarette advertising on social media:

“Activities [on social media] clearly violate the spirit of the existing agreements not to indirectly advertise to young people. You can call it stealth, undercover or guerilla marketing if you wish. Whatever its name, this is 21st-century cigarette advertising that reaches millions of young people around the world.”

And I couldn’t agree with him more.  And we’re going to have Rob on the show in a couple weeks to talk more about this. And that’s it for this minisode.

The Creative Influencer is a podcast about digital media.

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