Loopholes May Lead Young Facebook Users to Tobacco Products

Loopholes May Lead Young Facebook Users to Tobacco Products

Facebook needs to close loopholes on its measures to keep kids away from tobacco, a new study suggests.

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Although the social media giant doesn't allow paid ads for tobacco products, researchers found cigars, e-cigarettes and other smoking products are marketed and sold through unpaid content.

Much of this can be accessed by children, according to the Stanford University School of Medicine investigators.

"There are a lot of policies with the laudable intent of keeping tobacco promotion and sales out of Facebook," said study author Dr. Robert Jackler.

But these policies are voluntary.

With "some 2 billion users and an enormous volume of daily postings, Facebook has a daunting task of policing its content," added Jackler, chair of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery. He is also researching the impact of tobacco advertising.

A large portion of the unpaid tobacco marketing is through brand-sponsored Facebook pages, Jackler's team said.

Of 108 company-sponsored pages for leading brands of cigars, e-cigarettes, hookah tobacco and smokeless tobacco, the researchers found more than half provided "shop now" buttons so users could buy the products.

About two-thirds of the pages had sale promotions, such as coupons and discounts. And all but one had images of tobacco products, the study authors said.

Also, 10 of 14 online tobacco stores with company-maintained Facebook pages promoted leading cigarette brands like Marlboro and Camel, and included links to purchase them, the study found.

Facebook requires restricted access for users under age 18 from pages promoting the private sale of tobacco. But fewer than half of the tobacco company-sponsored pages had this type of "age gate," the researchers said.

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"Our hope is that our study -- by highlighting the degree to which tobacco marketers evade Facebook's intended restrictions -- will encourage the company to make a renewed effort to implement its well-intentioned policies," Jackler said in a university news release.

The study was published online April 5 in the BMJ Tobacco Control journal.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on youth and tobacco.


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