Tobacco industry uses Facebook to dodge rules, facilitates bidis sales

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Facebook hosts at least 30 separate pages for bidis businesses, and many of those businesses use the social media platform to facilitate sales, according to a report released Wednesday.

Global public health organization Vital Strategies’ report titled “Selling Death on Social Media: How Bidis Are Reaching Consumers Online” details digital media surveillance data with 344 instances of bidi social media marketing between December 2020 and August 2021, almost exclusively via Facebook (98%).

It showed that the tobacco industry was using Facebook to facilitate bidis sales, dodging India’s Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act 2003 (COTPA) regulations designed to protect young people and consumers from marketing. detrimental.

The report further showed that nearly 24% of bidi marketers on social media used posts describing bidis as part of an ambitious, fun or luxurious lifestyle. About 20% of bidi social media marketers also used posts related to community celebration, such as birthdays of famous people and religious holidays, including Holi and Eid – likely as an attempt to standardize usage. smoking while on vacation and connecting it with family and community.

In 79% of cases, bidis products were directly marketed with clear product images, compared to 9% of other smoking products and less than 1% of smokeless products, which are often marketed indirectly through more clandestine means of circumventing regulations. in force with regard to advertising.

Released at the ninth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 9) to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), the report comes as social media marketing by tobacco and tobacco companies bidis is a growing public health problem, especially as evidence shows that it leads to an increased likelihood of smoking among young people.

Of the 267 million tobacco users in India, nearly 72 million adults smoke bidis, and nearly half (47%) of consumers smoked their first bidi before their 10th birthday. Easily accessible nationwide and cheaper than cigarettes, it is estimated that eight times more bidis than cigarettes are sold in India.

Although bidis are more harmful to your health than other tobacco products, they have been under the regulatory radar for far too long.

“Social media giants have a duty of care, especially to their young users. Our research confirms the need for more careful and stringent monitoring of the branding and marketing efforts of the bidi industry – both online and offline – in accordance with Section 5 Indian Cigarettes. and the Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA) 2003, “said Vaishakhi Mallik, associate director, communications, India, Vital Strategies, in a statement.

“The deceptive nature of the industry’s marketing, now on youth-friendly social media platforms that often lack age verification, could exacerbate this health crisis. The bidi industry and the technology platforms that enable them need to be held responsible, ”she added.

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