Health Ministry to target web smoking ads

Expansion of the ban on tobacco ads in conventional media since 1983.

By
August 26, 2010 02:39
4 minute read.
Packs of cigarettes for sale at a kiosk.

311_ciggies. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Health Ministry director-general Dr. Ronni Gamzu will bring to a special ministry tobacco control committee he established the problem of fighting the growing trend of using the Internet to advertise the products of Israeli tobacco companies, The Jerusalem Post learned on Wednesday.

Since 1983, there has been a ban in Israel on advertising tobacco on conventional electronic media, TV and radio, but there are no restrictions on Web sites – and youth spend hours a day online.

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When he entered his position on June 1, Gamzu decided to set up the committee to take new initiatives against tobacco use and also to complete the work of the aborted Gillon Committee on the Prevention of Smoking, which was established in 1999 at the bidding of the High Court of Justice but without any report being written and issued by Judge Alon Gillon. After the ministry asked the court numerous times for an extension of the deadline, Gamzu renewed the committee and serves as chairman. He said a report with recommendations on new and stronger strategies to fight smoking will be issued the end of this year.

Gamzu told the Post that he will ask the committee to examine ideas to fight tobacco advertising in Israel, including that on Web sites. Among the popular Israeli news sites that have presented tobacco advertising are Ynet and Walla.

Deputy director-general Dr. Boaz Lev, who supervises the ministry’s 2020 Israel Plan to promote better health in another decade, told the Post that fighting tobacco advertising on the Web was a “worthy target, and we will consider ways of doing it.”

Meanwhile, the journal Tobacco Control (one of more than 30 specialist titles published by British Medical Journal Group), on Thursday published an article saying that the world tobacco industry is “apparently using the YouTube” video Web site to advertise cigarettes subliminally, with a target audience of young people, who regularly visit the site.”

Lucy Elkin of the University of Otago in Wellington, New Zealand, Dr. George Thomson of the university’s Department of Public Health and colleague Prof. Nick Wilson wrote in their six-page article that “tobacco companies have always vehemently denied advertising on the Internet. Several of them signed up to a voluntary agreement to restrict direct advertising on Web sites by the end of 2002.”



The researchers studied YouTube, which has the largest market share of the online video market, and searched through the first 20 pages of video clips containing any reference to five tobacco brands – Marlboro and L&M (marketed by Philip Morris); Benson and Hedges (marketed by both British American Tobacco and Gallagher); and Winston and Mild Seven, (marketed by Japan Tobacco and Reynolds).

Pro-tobacco videos have “a significant presence on YouTube, consistent with indirect marketing activity by tobacco companies or their proxies,” the authors said.

Since content may be removed from YouTube if it is found to breach copyright or if it contains offensive material, they continued, individuals and organizations could request the removal of protobacco content that met either of those conditions.

In addition, they recommended that the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control – which Israel ratified – could be amended to set restrictions on Internet tobacco advertising.

As a quarter of the world’s population has Internet access and the number grows constantly, with access 24 hours a day, cyberspace is a perfect place for tobacco companies to push their products.

The New Zealand authors analyzed 163 relevant clips in all, over 20 of which appeared to be “very professionally made,” they said. The clips included the 40 most viewed for Marlboro, Winston cigarettes, and Benson and Hedges; 24 videos for Mild Seven; and 19 for L&M cigarettes. Those videos associated with Marlboro were the most heavily watched, they wrote, averaging 104,000 views each, with one attracting 2 million views alone. Almost three-quarters of the content found (71 percent) was classified as “pro-tobacco,” with less than 4% as “anti-tobacco.”

Seventy percent of the sample clips contained brand images of people smoking branded tobacco products, and most video clips for every brand studied, except Marlboro, contained brand content or the brand name in the title. Out of 40 Marlboro videos, 39 had the name Marlboro in the title. Celebrities/movies, sports and music were the most common content themes in the 163 clips. These were likely to appeal to young people, the authors wrote.

Amos Hausner, chairman of the Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking, said youths are clearly being targeted by the tobacco industry via films and the Internet through subliminal and direct advertising. “These media have a strong influence on children and youth, and they are wanted by the tobacco companies as new customers.”

Hausner added that his council had received complaints from the public about tobacco ads on Israeli Web sites.

Hausner said that the ombudsman of the Second Authority for Television and Radio sent a letter last week to the Avir Naki (Clean Air) smoking prevention organization about smoking on popular Channel 2 shows including Kokav Nolad (A Star is Born) and previously, Big Brother.

The ombudsman said the authority’s council would discuss the problem.

Compared to the increase in smoking shown on films in Israel, this has been cut by 50% in the US, according to a recent study.

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