FIFA World Cup Served as World Stage for Tobacco Marketing to Youth
Shadow marketing and legal loopholes lead to marketers creating limited-edition World Cup cigarette packs in Indonesia; usage of Lionel Messi’s stardom in India to promote products; and promotion of e-cigarette sales in Mexico
March 27, 2023 (New York) – While tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship is banned at Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cups, tobacco marketers continue to promote tobacco by linking it to the world’s most popular sport and sporting events in countries worldwide.
Released today, a new brief by Vital Strategies examines how the world’s most-watched sporting tournament, the football FIFA World Cup, is used to promote tobacco products and use. The brief offers a first-of-its-kind look at digital tobacco marketing on social media in Indonesia, India and Mexico, leading up to and during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
“Despite tobacco being the antithesis to athleticism and health, tobacco marketing on social media platforms continues to use sports to mislead youth and hook them on these deadly products,” said Nandita Murukutla, Vice President, Global Policy and Research at Vital Strategies. “As traditional marketing channels shut out tobacco promotion, tobacco marketers have set their sights on social media to connect their products with sports, especially football, and have a direct channel to youth. Governments and social media companies alike must curb the promotion of these harmful products—and sports teams and its stars need to do more to distance themselves from the predatory tobacco marketing and its false claims.”
354 marketing instances were recorded from publicly available posts on social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter between September 15, 2023 and December 31, 2023. The brief analysis is based on three months of data collected by Vital Strategies’ digital media monitoring system, The Tobacco Enforcement and Reporting Movement (TERM).
Football-themed tobacco marketing was observed on social media leading up to and during the World Cup: 354 total marketing instances were found. Most posts originated in Indonesia (92%) where there are few marketing regulations, followed by India (6%) then Mexico (2%), countries with stronger marketing regulations.
Most marketing instances were observed on Instagram (73%).
All-age World Cup viewing parties that were sponsored by tobacco-company associated football brands, including Intersoccer (Gudang Garam) and Super Soccer (Djarum), were promoted.
Djarum’s Super Soccer brand was the most active marketer around the World Cup. The brand heavily promoted its series of in-person “Soccerphoria” events in 4 Indonesian cities. The events featured concerts with leading young artists and other activities that appeal to youth and to those with interests other than sports. The events also displayed Djarum’s limited edition World Cup-themed cigarette packs designed by local artists.
Promotions for global e-cigarette company Geekvape’s special edition World Cup e-cigarettes were observed in Indonesia. Geekvape is an official partner of French football giant Paris Saint-Germain; Lionel Messi’s club.
Most World Cup-related tobacco marketing was via brand extensions, primarily for ultra-processed foods, another well-established risk factor for noncommunicable diseases.
Tobacco company-manufactured ultra-processed products were promoted using memes related to Leonel Messi and the Argentina national team, with the tobacco company logo clearly visible.
Online retail accounts promoted e-cigarettes using images of football players and offering price promotions. This included a digitally altered image of national team goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa promoting e-cigarette use.
“FIFA’s ban on tobacco promotion is good first step, but by itself lacks teeth,” said Sandra Mullin, Senior Vice President, Policy, Advocacy and Research at Vital Strategies. “Football is the most watched and followed sport around the world and children are part of this global audience. FIFA, football celebrities, and the industry surrounding the World Cup and other football events, must actively and explicitly distance themselves from the tobacco industry by calling out its shady youth-oriented marketing practices.”
Countries must be alert to the rise in tobacco marketing during sporting events and should monitor marketing and engage in relevant enforcement efforts.
Policies to regulate online tobacco marketing must be introduced or strengthened, and should explicitly ban cross-border advertising, promotion and sponsorship.
There must be stronger coordination between various stakeholders vis-à-vis marketing restrictions across health-harming products. Marketing is happening between tobacco and ultra-processed foods, as tobacco companies circumvent tobacco advertising restrictions by extending to other types of health-harming products.
Policies must be developed to prevent e-cigarette companies from using football—a sport heavily loved by youth—to promote their products.
About the Tobacco Enforcement and Reporting Movement
Vital Strategies’ Tobacco Enforcement and Reporting Movement (TERM) is a real-time digital media monitoring system that provides evidence of tobacco marketing on social media platforms and news sites. Vital Strategies collects and analyzes data on the volume and type of tobacco marketing, which is then presented through simple situation reports and in-depth special reports on emerging issues. These reports provide governments, advocates and key stakeholders with critical data that can be used to inform tobacco control policymaking, particularly laws on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. TERM is currently operating in India, Indonesia and Mexico.
About Vital Strategies
Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by equitable and effective public health systems. We partner with governments, communities and organizations to reimagine public health, and the result is millions of people living longer, healthier lives. Our goal is to build a future where better health is supported across all facets of our lives, in our families, communities, in our environment and our governments.