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Exposing predatory marketing to children by tobacco and e-cigarette companies

Posted 29 May, 2020

As part of World No Tobacco Day, the Victorian Government has commissioned Quit and partners, including the Royal Children’s Hospital, to develop a series of new resources highlighting how tobacco and e-cigarette industries target children.

The resources - which will be developed for parents, teachers and teens – will expose the predatory marketing employed to make nicotine-containing products appealing to kids, and debunk some of the tactics and myths used by companies and retailers to make the products seem less harmful.

Even though the direct advertising and promoting of tobacco and e-cigarette products is banned in Australia, tobacco and e-cigarette companies circumvent these bans by adopting a range of devious marketing tactics, including using paid influencers to promote their products on social media platforms, installing product placement across streaming services, and funding groups which advocate for the loosening of restrictions on availability and use.

The introduction of engineered products and gimmicks, designed to lure a new generation of customers addicted to nicotine, are also increasingly being used. These engineered products include “crush-balls” – tiny plastic balls filled with flavoured liquid that are embedded in the filter of the cigarette – that can be crushed by the smoker to release flavours that make harsh tobacco more palatable to young smokers.

The Australian Secondary School Alcohol and Drug (ASSAD) Survey, conducted by Cancer Council Victoria, found that 48% of all underage past-month smokers in Victoria had used cigarettes containing “crush-balls”.

Last year, the Royal Children’s Hospital National Child Health Poll found that two thirds (65 per cent) of parents believe flavoured e-cigarettes encourage teenagers to take up the habit and more than half supported a ban on flavoured e-cigarettes. The vast majority of parents also supported improved enforcement of laws that ban advertising and promotion of e-cigarettes and their sales to children.

Quit is also a partner in an initiative, led by The Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation, to codesign an online training module for residential out-of-home workers and carers to protect teens from taking up smoking and to support those who do smoke to quit. The codesign of the module will involve a team of multi-disciplinary experts and Community Service Organisation collaborations, and young people with a lived experienced will be consulted throughout the development of the module content.

Quit Victoria director Dr Sarah White said it’s time the shine a light on the nefarious tactics employed by the tobacco industry, designed to encourage children to take up smoking or vaping.

“The manufacturers and retailers of tobacco products and e-cigarettes are desperate to get a new generation of kids hooked on nicotine to stay in business,” she said.

Cancer Council Victoria chief executive officer Todd Harper said more work needs to be done to protect kids form these dangerous products.

“Australians are no longer in the dark about smoking-caused health issues. Thanks to government, graphic health warnings on cigarette packs and TV-led public education campaigns are continuing to work to educate people on their risk and help them quit. But the time has come for us to make a stand against the devious tactics employed by all commercial interests seeking to profit from addicting children to nicotine,” he said.

VicHealth CEO Dr Sandro Demaio said it’s time the community were made aware of behaviour of the organisations who manufacture and sell tobacco and e-cigarette products.

“Tobacco and e-cigarette companies are continually using sneaky new marketing tactics to lure young people into using their deadly products. In addition to tougher action from governments at all levels, it’s vital we empower the next generation of Victorians to recognise industry's predatory tactics and understand the serious health effects of smoking. We must do all we can to protect them from taking up smoking and enduring a lifetime of related health problems.”

Quit Victoria is a partnership between VicHealth, the State Government of Victoria and Cancer Council Victoria. For more information, visit:

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