E-cigarettes are being advertised through Instagram despite ban, reveals survey
Youth across the country are reporting limited use of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) and heated tobacco products (HTN) since their ban in 2019 in India. But promotional activities for these products are happening on Instagram, Whatsapp, Facebook, TikTok and Twitter.
These findings were revealed by a national survey conducted in February 2022 by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in collaboration with Chair on Consumer Law and Practice, National Law School India University to assess use, accessibility, and marketing exposure for E-Cigarette, Heated Tobacco products (HTN) and other Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) after these were banned in India September 2019.
A total of 4,049 young adults in the age group of 18-35 were engaged to understand their use of and access to these products since their effective ban in November 2019. As many as 94 per cent of respondents have never used e-cigarette or other ENDS. Only four per cent reported using e-cigarette or other ENDS since the ban came into force. Those using the products said they are using e-cigarettes/HTN/ENDS products for social reasons (50 per cent), followed by liking for the flavors (27 per cent) and need to replace/reduce use of a tobacco product (24 per cent ).
Survey findings reveal that 26 per cent of the respondents noticed some form of marketing on social media platforms which shows continued targeting of youth through these channels. Of the 26 per cent, nearly 60 per cent of them saw ads on Instagram, WhatsApp (22.6 per cent ), Facebook (17.3 per cent), TikTok (14.3 per cent), and Twitter (6.8 per cent In-person promotional events were noticed by 22.6 per cent. The products are being sold and promoted as harm reduction products especially amongst youth, through social media, and web portals.
Commenting on the use of accessibility and marketing exposure for ENDS products, Vandana Shah, Regional Director, South Asia Program, CTFK said, “Countries around the world have been looking to India’s comprehensive ban on e-cigarettes/HTPs as a regulatory model but have expressed some skepticism about effectiveness. The results of this national survey are very encouraging with over 90% of youth reporting that they have never used these novel products. But continued vigilance is needed to safeguard youth from increased marketing through social media channels.”
According to the survey, Karnataka (38.1 per cent) emerged as the most prominent state in terms of accessibility of these products followed by Maharashtra (12.4 per cent), Tamil Nadu (9.3 per cent), Uttar Pradesh (6.7 per cent) and Kerala (6.5 per cent). The prominent source of purchasing e-cigarette is paan shop or Indian online retailers despite these products being banned in the country.
“By banning these novel products in India, the intention of the government was clear to protect the youth from initiating use of these addictive products. The survey findings reiterate the need for stronger enforcement to check the availability of these banned products in India. Regular monitoring should be conducted of the advertising content on social media platforms. Offending companies should be held accountable and strict action should be taken against them to deter them from luring young impressionable minds,” said Prof (Dr) Ashok Patil, Professor of Law, National Law School of India University, Bengaluru.
Says Arjun Singal, a student at the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru, “Students easily adopt things as fashion if they see something trending more in the social media. E-cigarettes are being sold and promoted through electronic platforms as students are major users of smartphones, computers, e-commerce, and social media. Students being vulnerable, are easily becoming victims to the conspiracies of tobacco companies. It is worrisome that despite the enactment of the E-cigarettes Act, we are seeing sale and promotion of e-cigarettes in the market including social media.”