E-cigarette and tobacco companies are exploiting the novel coronavirus crisis by advertising their harmful addictive products on social media, undermining restrictions on minimum age purchase meant for protecting young generation and making illegal and unproven health claims, according to a recent study published by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. The analysis includes tactics from e-cigarette makers, big tobacco companies and vape shops in twenty-eight countries.
The world’s two biggest tobacco companies, British American Tobacco and Philip Morris International are appropriating popular “Stay at Home” hashtags on social media, which are promoted by health authorities and governments to rather advertise market heated cigarette-related products such as IQOS, Glo and e-cigarettes like ‘Vype’.
In the United States, vape shops and e-cigarette makers have also turned to social media for promoting their products and boosting their sales during the coronavirus crisis. Pandemic-related promotions range from free face masks with purchases of e-cigarettes to giving the discounts (get 19% off nicotine e-liquids by using the code COVID-19). E-cigarette makers have also used the coronavirus pandemic for making illegal and unproven health claims about e-cigarettes. Bidi Vapor claims that “A bidi stick a day keeps the pulmonologist away.”
In Spain, British American Tobacco has posted pictures advertising e-cigarettes with the hashtag #FrenaLaCurva (#FlattenTheCurve) and in Italy, Philip Morris has used the hashtag #DistantiMaVicini (#DistantButClose) for advertising IQOS. The companies have also promoted music series at-home and launched exclusive music videos for promoting tobacco or cigarette products online. In addition to promotion on social media, Philip Morris has waived ID approval on IQOS delivery in at least one country and references the COVID-19 crisis in at least eighteen countries for promoting special offers and home deliveries of the products.
In Kazakhstan, British American Tobacco provided Glo-branded facemasks to more than a dozen social media influencers who posted their pictures wearing those facemasks, all with the same caption advertising-free Glo facemasks (#glomask) with every purchase of the Glo device. These and other posts advertising tobacco products were seen in several countries, in spite of the announcement in December 2019 by Facebook and Instagram that these platforms would no longer permit influencers to promote tobacco and cigarette products online.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids’ president, Matthew L. Myers said that the tobacco companies will remain determined for selling more items, regardless of whether it implies indecently profiting by capitalizing on the deadly coronavirus pandemic. He added that it is not just Big Tobacco, e-cigarette makers and vape shops have stooped too low to target the young generation, misleading the consumers just to sell more e-cigarettes. To learn more about the harmful links between tobacco consumption and the COVID-19, these tactics are raising the alarm in every country around the world.
Public health experts have cautioned that e-cigarette users and smokers are having a greater risk for severe illness when infected with the coronavirus. There is conclusive evidence that smoking weakens the immune system, increases the risk for respiratory infections and is one of the major causes of chronic conditions that increase the risk for the coronavirus, including heart disease, lung disease and diabetes.
Multiple studies have demonstrated that smokers are at a higher risk of developing severe respiratory infections and death from the coronavirus. Moreover, there is growing evidence that the use of e-cigarette harms lung health. The coronavirus outbreak is happening amidst a smoking and vaping epidemic. In fact, even under the current worst scenarios, Americans will die three times more this year from tobacco-related illnesses than from COVID-19. Perhaps it’s an ideal time to draw a line to keep illnesses and deaths from both the diseases on the opposite side.