Social media sites are being used to target children with adverts for electronic cigarettes, a report has claimed.
Cancer Research UK said that the “unregulated marketing” across popular sites such as Facebook and Twitter needs to be more carefully controlled.
The charity added that it was not calling for a complete ban of the products, as they can help smokers quit the habit.
“E-cigarettes and other alternative nicotine delivery devices are probably much safer than conventional cigarettes, and so if smokers switch to them, many lives could be saved,” commented co-author of the report Professor Gerard Hasting from the University of Stirling.
“But the market is looking to make money, not improve public health, and this is creating many dangers.”
“The fact that multinational tobacco companies are moving in to this market is of particular concern. From past experience, we know they are deceitful, determined and deeply detrimental to public health.”
Among the adverts criticised were competitions, mobile apps and discounts for group purchases offered by e-cigarette brands.
The packaging for the products also raised some concerns, as it was deemed to have an attractive appearance, especially when compared to standard cigarette packages, which must carry large health warnings by law.
Another factor cited as advertising the e-cigarettes to younger people was ‘celebrity culture’.
“There’s evidence in the report – particularly on social media – of e-cigs being promoted as cool and the latest thing and applying all the kings of marketing ploys that would be used to attract a youth market, including involving pop stars, computer games and one e-cig company evening sponsoring a football youth team’s strip,” explained Alison Cox, head of tobacco policy at Cancer Research UK.
The report covered nearly 1,000 pieces of marketing for e-cigarettes across social media, urban areas and locations close to music festivals and sporting events.
Image of young woman smoking e-cigarette courtesy of Shutterstock.co.uk