Accessibility Skip to Global Navigation Skip to Local Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Site Map Menu

Extensive indirect tobacco marketing on YouTube


Thursday 26 August 2010 3:53pm

Just published research has found an extensive use of leading tobacco brand names and brand images on YouTube, closely associated with pro-smoking content or smoking imagery. This is despite the obligation in 168 countries to ban the advertising of tobacco, under a World Health Organisation agreement.

The research, from the University of Otago, Wellington found prominent themes in the YouTube videos containing tobacco brands that appeal to youth and normalised smoking; including the use of celebrities, movies, sports and music.

The study looked at 163 videos found in a YouTube search for five leading brand names; at least 71% of these videos had content which was supportive of smoking. The top themes of the videos found with the Marlboro brand were music, celebrities and movies. Most of the videos which showed Mild Seven and 45% that included Benson and Hedges had a sports theme.

However, the health researchers found that while YouTube provides for the removal of material it defines as offensive, it does not currently consider pro-tobacco content as grounds for removal of specific video clips.

Lead researcher, Lucy Elkin, says that while tobacco companies deny advertising on the internet, the significant brand presence on YouTube is consistent with indirect marketing activity by tobacco companies or their proxies.

“The internet is ideal for tobacco marketing, being largely unregulated and viewed by millions of people world-wide every day. However, public and health organisations can request that YouTube at least removes pro-tobacco videos containing material defined as offensive under its present rules,” she says.

The research also points out that governments can also implement the WHO’s ‘Framework Convention on Tobacco Control’ requirements on controlling tobacco marketing on the internet.

Another researcher, Dr George Thomson, says there is considerable evidence that tobacco companies worldwide use sports, movie celebrities and music to market to youth, and this fitted with the themes within the videos examined.

This study has been published in the journal Tobacco Control, and was supported by funding from the Health Research Council of New Zealand.

For further information contact

Lucy Elkin
University of Otago, Wellington
Tel 04 977 5559
Mob 021 026 14753

Dr George Thomson
University of Otago, Wellington
Tel 04 918 6054

Dr Nick Wilson
University of Otago, Wellington
Mob 021 2045 523

For a list of Otago experts available for media comment, please go to