Boffins claim tobacco firms using the web to flog ciggies on the sly -

Not content with banning TV cigarette ads, billboard posters and, worst of all smoking in pubs and clubs, boffins have now set their sites on moaning about the tobacco industry using websites to advertise.

According to anti-chuggers at the University of Otago, Wellington, New Zealand, the industry could be using  sites like YouTube to get around a ban on advertising cigarettes.

The boffins came to the conclusion after finding a number of "pro-tobacco" videos which were "consistent with indirect marketing activity by tobacco companies or their proxies."

"Tobacco companies stand to benefit greatly from the marketing potential of Web 2.0, without themselves being at significant risk of being implicated in violating any laws or advertising codes," the researchers wrote.

The study, published in the journal Tobacco Control, focused on YouTube. Researchers searched for five tobacco brands and analysed the first 20 pages of video clips containing any reference to the firms. The content studied had been uploaded by users.

The authors analysed 163 clips, of which 20 appeared to be "very professionally made."

Most of the clips in the study were images of people smoking branded tobacco products or images associated with the brand. Many also included the brand name in the title of the video.

They are now moaning that the governments should consider regulating such content on the net.

Of course the findings have started off the anti-smoking brigade with Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) claiming that the study's findings were "disturbing but fairly typical of tobacco industry activity".

It told Aunty: "It indicates that their key audience is young people. There is a need for much stronger control over what appears on the internet."

Tobacco companies are disputing the claims. British American Tobacco, one of the firms studied in the report, said it's "not our policy to use social networking sites such as Facebook or YouTube to promote our tobacco product brands".

"Not even the authors of this report claim we have done so," she said. "Using social media could breach local advertising laws and our own International Marketing Standards, which apply to our companies worldwide."

The tobacco industry signed up to a voluntary agreement to restrict direct advertising on websites back in 2002.

With this in mind we think it's a load of old smoke.