Cigarette maker Philip Morris has put a stop to a worldwide social media campaign after Reuters reached out to the company, questioning their use of young online “influencers” to promote a new heated tobacco device being rolled out by the company. Philip Morris typically abides by their own internal marketing standards, which disallow the promotion of tobacco products by models who are or appear to be under 25 years of age.
When confronted by Reuters about their use of models as young as 21 in their latest campaign, the company announced that they were suspending the campaign and explained that they had launched an internal investigation.
One paid model involved in the marketing campaign was social media influencer Alina Tapilina of Moscow, who claims to be 21 years old. She was paid to share a number of Russian-language posts on Instagram, some of which included images of herself in a variety of seductive poses.
“We have taken the decision to suspend all of our product-related digital influencer actions globally,” Philip Morris told Reuters. “Whilst the influencer in question is a legal age adult smoker, she is under 25 and our guidance called for influencers to be 25+ years of age. This was a clear breach of that guidance.”
“No laws were broken,” the company continued. “However, we set high standards for ourselves and these facts do not excuse our failure to meet those standards in this instance.”
A 21-year-old ‘influencer’ in Russia was part of a Philip Morris’ social media marketing campaign to sell its tobacco-heating device IQOS. Read the investigation by @c_kirkham https://t.co/tjGQ9Xo11j pic.twitter.com/Y3eTZLMiBq— Reuters Business (@ReutersBiz) May 11, 2019
The heated tobacco device has been dubbed IQOS by Philip Morris, which stands for “I Quit Ordinary Smoking.” As part of a paid marketing campaign, many of the influencers posting about the product included the hashtag #IQOSambassador in their paid posts, many of which originated from individuals with tens of thousands of followers, with some commanding followings of over one million.
Matthew Myers, president of The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, expressed substantial concern about the behavior of Philip Morris after reviewing the series of IQOS marketing images compiled by Reuters. The company, according to Myers, is only changing their behavior when they have been caught “red-handed.”
Myers also went on to point out that, historically speaking, Philip Morris has been wildly successful “in making cigarettes fashionable to young people.”
The company, on the other hand, said in a statement to Reuters that their suspension of the campaign was, in fact, a powerful indicator of their commitment to marketing responsibly and ultimately working towards “a smoke-free world,” thanks to their various emerging alternatives to traditional smoking,
Philip Morris has in the past said that they exit the traditional cigarette business altogether in favor of such alternatives.