Last year the Spanish boyband Dvicio was riding high after their latest album topped the charts. The “boys” — by now all in their late 20s or early 30s — were the summer’s cover stars for Like!, a tween magazine. Despite the pandemic, the band was still touring Spain. But these were gigs with a difference.
The concerts were sponsored by British American Tobacco (BAT), one of the world’s largest cigarette companies. At an exclusive gig in Madrid, the front rows were full of influencers there to promote Glo, BAT’s new heated tobacco product. Behind them sat people who had won tickets via a lottery on Glo’s Instagram account. For those who missed out, there was another chance to see Dvicio at the Starlite festival in Marbella — also sponsored by Glo.
BAT has told regulators around the world that its new products, including heated tobacco and oral nicotine, are for current adult smokers. But as these sponsorships make clear, it has launched an aggressive £1 billion ($1.4 billion USD) marketing campaign that leans heavily on social media, concerts and sporting events, which could have the effect of encouraging young people to pick up a potentially deadly tobacco habit that still kills 8 million people a year, notwithstanding long-established rules aimed at preventing this.
The bureau can reveal that several of these tactics, employed in different countries around the world, have attracted a new generation including non-smokers to highly addictive nicotine and tobacco products — and that this seems to be a consequence of BAT’s plans for yet more growth.
These tactics include:
- Presenting nicotine products as cool and aspirational in a glossy youth-focused advertising campaign.
- Paying social media influencers to promote e-cigarettes, nicotine pouches and tobacco on Instagram, notwithstanding the platform’s ban on the practice.
- Sponsoring music and sporting events, including an F1 e-sports tournament that was streamed live on YouTube and could be watched by children.
- And an international free samples offer for nicotine pouches and e-cigarettes that appears to have attracted underage people and non-smokers.
BAT told the bureau:
“All marketing activity for our products will only be directed towards adult consumers and is not designed to engage or appeal to youth … All our marketing is done responsibly,