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Big Tobacco Using YouTube To Shill Products?

August 26, 2010

Prohibited from using television, radio, and newspapers for advertising their products, tobacco companies may have taken their marketing to YouTube and other popular online media outlets, according to a study published in the online journal Tobacco Control on Wednesday.

Authors Lucy Elkin, George Thomson, and Nick Wilson, all members of the Department of Public Health from the University of Otago in Wellington, New Zealand, conducted their research at YouTube, and conducted searches featuring five of the top cigarette brands internationally: Marlboro, L&M, Benson and Hedges, Winston, and Mild Seven.

They then looked at the thematic content of a total of up to 40 of the most popular videos per brand–a total of 163. Of those, “a majority”¦ (71.2%, 95% CI 63.9 to 77.7) had pro-tobacco content, versus a small minority (3.7%) having anti-tobacco content (95% CI 1.4 to 7.8),” the researchers note.

“Most of these videos contained tobacco brand content (70.6%), the brand name in the title (71.2%) or smoking imagery content (50.9%),” they added. “One pro-smoking music video had been viewed over 2 million times. The four most prominent themes of the videos were celebrity/movies, sports, music and ‘archive’, the first three of which represent themes of interest to a youth audience.”

According to an August 25 press release from Tobacco Control parent British Medical Journal, tobacco companies have long “vehemently denied advertising on the Internet,” and several top manufacturers voluntarily agreed to restrict direct advertising online by the end of 2002. In the press release, the trio of researchers state that 20 of the 163 videos appeared to be “very professionally made,” and that each of the videos averaged 100,000 views, with one topping the two million view plateau.

Furthermore, according to AFP, “Many of the videos included old TV advertising and posters, which are outlawed in many countries”¦ There were also scenes from films with popular actors and a cigarette whose brand was visible, extracts of tobacco-sponsored sporting events, and TV footage from the 1950s and 1960s, including The Flintstones, The Beverly Hillbillies and even the Beatles.”

“Pro-tobacco videos have a significant presence on YouTube, consistent with indirect marketing activity by tobacco companies or their proxies,” Elkin, Thomson, and Wilson conclude in their study. “Since content may be removed from YouTube if it is found to breach copyright or if it contains offensive material, there is scope for the public and health organizations to request the removal of pro-tobacco content containing copyright or offensive material.”

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