Cigarette maker Philip Morris International Inc. has suspended a global social media marketing campaign in response to Reuters inquiries into the company’s use of young online personalities to sell its new “heated tobacco” device, including a 21-year-old woman in Russia.
The company’s internal “marketing standards” prohibit it from promoting tobacco products with youth-oriented celebrities or “models who are or appear to be under the age of 25.”
The company told Reuters of the decision late Friday, saying it had launched an internal investigation into marketing posts and photographs that Reuters sent to the company for comment earlier this week.
They included a paid post plugging the tobacco product by social media “influencer” Alina Tapilina in Moscow – who listed her age as 21 on Instagram – alongside often seductive photos of herself drinking wine, swimming and posing with little clothing in luxurious settings.
“We have taken the decision to suspend all of our product-related digital influencer actions globally,” the company 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 told Reuters. “However, we set high standards for ourselves and these facts do not excuse our failure to meet those standards in this instance.”
The company added: “We were deeply disappointed to discover this breach and are grateful that it was brought to our attention.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last month decided it would allow sales of the IQOS device in the United States after a two-year review process in which Philip Morris repeatedly assured the regulator that it would warn young people away from the product.
The FDA declined to comment Friday evening on Philip Morris’ decision to suspend the marketing campaign. The agency earlier said it would “keep a close watch on ... how the company is marketing its products.”
While most of the social media influencers hired by Philip Morris overseas did not list their ages on Instagram, a Reuters review of the firm’s social media marketing of IQOS in Japan, Italy, Switzerland, Russia and Romania shows that Tapilina’s online persona was typical of what the company called its social media “ambassadors” for the device – rail-thin young women who revel in the high life.
The company did not directly respond to additional questions Friday night regarding the intended audience for its digital influencer campaigns.
Philip Morris, in its statement to Reuters, said its suspension of the social marketing campaign is “concrete proof” of its “conviction to achieve a smoke-free world through socially responsible practices.”