• “Those who reported that they were exposed to online tobacco promotion also reported that they were more likely to be susceptible to smoking in the future.” (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Despite Australia’s best efforts to ban all forms of tobacco promotion, a new study reveals that international online branding and advertising campaigns are appearing in the social media accounts and online searches of young adults.
By
Yasmin Noone

30 Jun 2016 - 11:49 AM  UPDATED 30 Jun 2016 - 11:49 AM

You may assume that Australia’s tough laws on tobacco promotion means that our youth are immune to all forms of advertising encouraging them to smoke. But according to a new study almost one third of people aged 12-24 in NSW and Queensland have been exposed to tobacco advertising online.

The study, involving almost 9,000 participants, identifies Facebook as the most common online avenue for young people to encounter tobacco branding, with one-in-five young adults claiming to have seen cigarette branding on the popular social media site.

The research, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, also finds that 19 per cent of young adults saw tobacco positively promoted online through pop-up messages.

“Since legislation prohibiting tobacco advertising in traditional media, online communication platforms and social media have become one of the few avenues for the tobacco industry to promote its products to Australians,” the study reads.

“…In 2013, the most common place to report seeing tobacco branding was on Facebook, followed by pop-up messages, banner advertisements, YouTube, and Google advertisements.”

Law banning tobacco advertising (Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act 1992) was originally enacted in Australia in 1992, followed by amendments to the act in 2012, which extended restrictions on tobacco advertising to the Internet and other electronic media.

“…In 2013, the most common place to report seeing tobacco branding was on Facebook, followed by pop-up messages, banner advertisements, YouTube, and Google advertisements.”

Manager for Cancer Prevention at the Cancer Institute NSW, Anita Dessaix, says despite strict laws governing tobacco advertising in Australia, online tobacco promotion can still be accessed online.

“At the end of the day, although we may have some restrictions on tobacco advertising in place that apply to Australia, the internet is a global medium,” says Dessaix.

“When we look at social media, Facebook and YouTube, and other online sources of tobacco promotion, branding and advertising could come from anywhere throughout the world.”

The study was conducted via a telephone survey of 8,820 young people, aged 12-to-24 in New South Wales and Queensland.

The researchers also examined tobacco branding online, including peer-to-peer promotion like Facebook profile photo clearly depicting a specific brand cigarette packaging, as well as advertising.

They found that exposure to internet-based tobacco advertising and branding increased over three years the research was conducted.

Tobacco advertising exposure went from 21 per cent in 2010 to 29 per cent in 2013, while branding exposure jumped from 20 per cent to 26 per cent in 2013.

“Across all years of the survey, when asked where they had seen tobacco company branding on the Internet, the most common answer among youth was that they did not know,” the study reads.

“However, this proportion decreased significantly from 40 per cent in 2010 to 28 per cent in 2013.”

The study also identified that young people who see tobacco advertising or branding online are more likely to be influenced to smoke.

“The results were concerning,” says Dessaix. “Those who reported that they were exposed to online tobacco promotion also reported that they were more likely to be susceptible to smoking in the future.”

According to HealthStats NSW, 6.7 per cent of NSW school children, aged 12-17, smoked in 2014.

“We know that young people spend a lot of time online and we are seeing significant reductions in the number of teens and young adults who smoke. What we don’t want to see a reversal of those trends,” she adds.

“Those who reported that they were exposed to online tobacco promotion also reported that they were more likely to be susceptible to smoking in the future.”

CEO of Cancer Council Australia, Professor Sanchia Aranda, says that Australia, as a whole, is doing well to reduce the number of youths who smoke.

“A key measure of success in any tobacco control environment is the level of youth smoking,” says Professor Aranda.

“Australia now has some of the lowest youth smoking rates of like countries at 6.7 per cent and rapidly declining.”

However, Professor Aranda says, steps must be taken to ensure the positive trends to reduce smoking rates don’t reverse.

“Tobacco control professionals will continue to monitor the tactics being used by the industry to sell their products and do all that we can to disrupt the messaging.”

Dessaix also advises parents and guardians of young adults to be vigilant in the battle against smoking.

“Parents in the first instance should be aware that this is occurring.

“We also need to ensure we continue this trend downwards…and ensure we have counter tobacco marketing measures online.

“This is an issue that warrants attention and continued investment in anti-tobacco advertising online.”

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