Fewer teens are smoking these days, but tobacco companies are pursuing new social media marketing techniques in a move aimed clearly at reversing that trend, according to a report Tuesday in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Citing a study by the Minnesota Department of Health, the newspaper noted that the use of tobacco among the state's high school students had declined to 25.8 percent this year compared to 27 percent in 2008. The rate dropped by a similar margin to 5.6 percent among the state's middle school students as well, reflecting what seems to be a nationwide trend.
But health officials are still concerned that the decline in teen smoking has slowed and that tobacco use still remains higher among high school students in general than among adults. Part of the reason, they say is that tobacco companies have come up with new ways to reach teens through Facebook and other social media outlets that are being used to promote specific brands of cigarettes and other tobacco products to young people.
For example, the Minnesota study found that at least a quarter of high school students statewide had seen YouTube clips or other Web videos that showed people smoking. The Star Tribune noted in its report on the study that one-fifth of the state's high school students had also visited pro-tobacco pages on Facebook or other social media sites.
One fan page on Facebook for the smokeless tobacco known as Camel Snus contained obvious and regular appeals directed specifically at the young.
"When playing COD: Black Ops, having SEX or typing a paper, DON'T FORGET TO SNUS!!!!" read one appeal, according to the Star Tribune.
Andy Berndt, an official with the youth smoking prevention program Catalyst, told the newspaper that Websites and social media are being explored as a new frontier for tobacco advertising, which has been heavily regulated in recent years.
"They're always going to be searching for that next way to target young people," Berndt said.