New research finds that tobacco products are marketed and sold through unpaid content on Facebook despite the company's social media policies that restrict or prohibit the promotion of these items . In many of these instances, there is no safeguard to prevent access to minors.
"Facebook has a portfolio of policies with the laudable intent to keep promotion and tobacco sales off the Facebook platform," said study lead author Robert Jackler, MD, principal investigator at Stanford Research Into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising, told CBS News. "These policies are voluntary and are a sign of Facebook's commitment to social responsibility, Unfortunately, these policies are applied inconsistently and there is a large volume of tobacco promotion on Facebook."
Facebook bars paid for tobacco ads, including advertisements for cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, tobacco pipes, waterpipes, hookah rooms, smoking papers, vaporized delivery devices and electronic cigarettes . According to its advertising policy, no images of tobacco and related products are allowed, as well as links to sites where such items can be purchased.
The giant of social networks allows "blogs or groups that connect people with interests related to tobacco". ", as long as they do not sell tobacco or tobacco-related products, but it has a series of current rules that apply to sales and commercial activity.
However, new research from the Stanford University School of Medicine finds that many tobacco companies are overcoming these restrictions through unpaid or "organic" publications, primarily on their brand-sponsored Facebook pages.
Out of 108 Facebook-sponsored company pages for major brands of cigars, e-cigarettes, pipe tobacco and smokeless tobacco, the study authors found that more than half included purchase links, such as " buy now". Approximately two-thirds of the pages offered sales promotions, including coupons and discounts. All but one presented images of tobacco products.
Although none of the top 21 traditional cigarette brands had Facebook pages, the study found that 10 of the 14 online tobacco stores with pages maintained by the company promoted popular brands of cigarettes, such as Marlboro, Camel, Newport and American Spirit, and included links to buy them. The results of the study are published online in The BMJ Tobacco Control.
Facebook has what it calls an "age requirement" for the private sale of regulated products, including tobacco, alcohol and firearms. This means that anyone under the age of 18 should not be able to access the pages that promote the private sale of these items. Facebook notes that the age restriction applies only to private individuals who sell "peer-to-peer" items, not to authorized retailers.
The researchers found that only 48 of the 108 Facebook pages sponsored by tobacco brands had a safeguard to restrict access to minors.
This is important, Jackler says, because younger people are more likely to start using tobacco, with the risk of becoming addicted to nicotine .
"As the vast majority of smoking initiation occurs during adolescence, the tobacco industry has a long history of attacks against adolescents," he said. "If you want to reach teenagers in 2018, the place to do it is through social networks, especially Facebook, because a large part of youth uses it daily."
Recent figures show 5.8 million 13-year-old American teenagers -17 use Facebook and 65 percent of them say they review it every day. The social network has more than 2 billion users worldwide.
The researchers also badyzed the "like" number for each Facebook page sponsored by the company. At the time of the study, 30 of the pages had accumulated 10,000 or more I like, and four of the pages had more than 50,000 likes.
Jackler said he and his team were not surprised that tobacco companies were finding ways to avoid Facebook's restrictions. Promote the sale of your products.
"What surprised us was the volume and variety of the unpaid tobacco promotion that we found on Facebook and the pbadivity of Facebook in maintaining its own policies," he said. "While Facebook was alert to the exclusion of paid tobacco ads that appear to receive special scrutiny, it appears that it does not systematically track the promotion sponsored by the tobacco brand on its pages."
Facebook disagreed with some aspects of the study, for example, noting that its commercial policies only apply to the "Purchasing Section" of a company's page, while researchers considered a wider range of publications.
In a statement provided to CBS News, Facebook said:  "We do not allow the sale or advertising of tobacco products on Facebook, we use a combination of technology, human review and reports from our community to find and eliminate any Content that violates these policies, and provide tools that facilitate the report of our community content that they believe it may violate Our application is not perfect, but we continue to find ways to strengthen our review and implementation of our policies. "
However, Jackler says that the problem is not the main one with Facebook, but with the tobacco companies.
"It focuses mainly on exposing yet another example of the cynical way in which the tobacco industry avoids any attempt to restrict its incessant efforts to promote its" Finally, the study exposes flaws in Facebook that the network social has the opportunity to close.
"Our hope is that our study, by highlighting the extent to which tobacco vendors evade their planned restrictions, will encourage Facebook to redouble efforts to implement its well-intentioned policies," said Jackler.