New research offers first look into online E-Cigarette marketing in India, Indonesia & Mexico

Of all three countries, India had the lowest volume of observed e-cigarette marketing

New Delhi: A new study released in Frontiers in Public Health compares e-cigarette marketing in India, Indonesia and Mexico—three countries with different e-cigarette regulations and large populations of youth online—to detail the extent and messaging of e-cigarette marketing. A companion report highlights key findings from the study in an easy-to-read format, with a fact sheet that captures India-specific data from the study, with illustrative examples and figures.
In the four-month period analyzed in this study, from December 2021 to March 2022, a total of 1,437 instances of e-cigarette marketing were analyzed. Most of these were in Indonesia, where there are effectively no restrictions on e-cigarettes (72%), followed by Mexico, which had some restrictions at the time (22%), and India, which has a full ban (6%). Findings were generated by Vital Strategies’ Tobacco Enforcement and Reporting Movement (TERM), a digital tobacco marketing monitoring system. Through its continuous social media monitoring mechanism, TERM provides policymakers with a rapid snapshot of how tobacco is marketed online.
Vaishkahi Malik, Associate Director, South Asia, Vital Strategies said, “With the rise of social media and digital marketing, India’s youth have worryingly become a more easily reachable market for the tobacco industry. Despite a ban on e-cigarettes, Indians are still seeing e-cigarette advertisements on social media platforms such as Instagram, where brands are using colors and flavors to appeal to youth. Thoughtful regulations, especially on marketing, that close all loopholes will be critical to protecting youth from using e-cigarettes.”
From December 2021 to March 2022 the following trends were observed:
  • E-cigarette marketing was observed in all three countries, with the lowest volume in India (6% of observed instances), and the highest volume in Indonesia (72%), followed by Mexico (22%).
  • In India, 100% of marketing originated from accounts associated with third-party retailers.
  • Of all the three countries, accounts in India offered the most covert ways of making purchases by only providing phone numbers, often via WhatsApp.
  • Across all three countries, most of the messaging focused on product features that would most appeal to youth and that highlighted the range of choices consumers have, such as device color, e-liquid flavors and technical specifications of products (India: 86%; Indonesia: 58%; Mexico: 73%).
  • The second most common message framing in India was entertainment, which
    included people doing tricks with e-cigarettes (13%).
  • In India, 60% of marketing was observed on Instagram.
Nandita Murukutla, Vice President, Global Policy and Research, Vital Strategies said, “Tobacco marketing undercuts the effectiveness of existing tobacco control measures and puts consumers, particularly youth, most at risk. Youth are seeing the depiction of e-cigarette use as a harmless and desirable habit for teens and youth. It is shown as a lifestyle choice shared by peers. This presentation is inconsistent with oft-repeated claims by industry that e-cigarettes are in the market as cessation-aids or ‘harm reduction tools.’. For countries that care about youth and non-smokers taking up e-cigarettes, our study shows that leaving products and marketing poorly regulated is not an option.”
Key recommendations of the study:
  • Marketing restrictions must be introduced or strengthened to prevent young people from becoming dependent on e-cigarettes. Marketing restrictions should cover all new tobacco and nicotine products and apply to all media and to all parties.
  • Governments, media and tobacco control advocates should respond to public need for information on tobacco cessation. They must address misleading messages, especially those aimed at youth and children, that present e-cigarette use as without any harm.
  • Governments should invest in digital media monitoring systems to track and respond to the presence of marketing of tobacco and other novel products online. Civil society and other stakeholders can help: Rapid and continuous measurement systems such as TERM offer a snapshot of the evolving world of digital media marketing.

Access the Frontiers in Public Health report here
Access the companion report with key findings from the study here
Access the India fact sheet here