The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids alleges in a new report that tobacco and e-cigarette companies of using the COVID-19 pandemic to circumvent restrictions placed on them to protect kids.
According to the report, tobacco and e-cigarette companies around the world are advertising their products on social media and making unproven or illegal health claims. By analyzing marketing tactics of tobacco companies and e-cigarette makers and vape shops, the anti-smoking organization identified several examples of how the companies are using the pandemic to their advantage.
The analysis found that Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco are using “Stay at Home” hashtags to market their products. The companies have also promoted at-home concerts and launched exclusive music videos to promote their products online.
In America, the organization found that e-cigarette companies are promoting their brands on social media by offering free masks with the purchase of products or offering COVID-19 discounts (19 percent off nicotine purchases). One company, Bidi Vapor, claimed on Instagram that “A bidi stick a day keeps the pulmonologist away.”
“Tobacco companies will stop at nothing to sell more products, even if it means shamelessly capitalizing on a pandemic,” said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “It’s not just Big Tobacco – vape shops and e-cigarette makers have stooped to new lows to target young people, mislead consumers, and sell more e-cigarettes. As we continue to learn more about the harmful links between COVID-19 and tobacco use, these tactics should raise the alarm in every country around the world.”
Public health officials have said that smokers and those who use e-cigarettes are at a much higher risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 if they contract the coronavirus. Evidence suggests that smoking increases one’s risk for respiratory infections, weakens one’s immune system, and is a major cause of underlying chronic health conditions like lung disease, heart disease, and diabetes that can increase the risk of severe outcomes and death from COVID-19. There is also growing evidence that vaping or using e-cigarettes can damage one’s lung, the organization said.
The anti-smoking organization said its analysis had found examples of marketing to youth in other countries, as well. In Spain, it said, British American Tobacco had posted photos on social media advertising Vype e-cigarettes using the hashtag “FrenaLaCurva (#FlattenTheCurve), and Italy Philip Morris had done the same using the hashtag “DistantiMaVicini (#DistantbutClose) to advertise IQOS e-cigarettes.
The organization said that Philip Morris has waived ID validation in at least one country and uses the COVID-19 pandemic in promoting special offers and home delivery.