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Pro-tobacco videos continue to rack up views on YouTube

Experts are worried about the videos reaching a younger audience

As Youtube continues to fight against the spread of misinformation, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania explored how tobacco-related videos continue to make their rounds around the popular video streaming service.

The researchers explained that viewers continue to see videos promoting the positives of tobacco use or vaping. Considering the number of young people who regularly use YouTube, and the misleading statements evident throughout the videos, this has become a serious issue.

“The easy access of such

material suggests that YouTube is a fertile environment for the promotion of tobacco products despite its banning of tobacco advertising,” the researchers explained.

Pushing boundaries

The researchers evaluated several different search criteria on YouTube to understand what kind of effect these videos are having on viewers.

Their work revealed that viewers can easily access videos on any number of topics related to tobacco, including how to properly use tobacco, “fun ways” to utilize tobacco, or even how to vape. These videos receive millions of views, and some even suggest that any negative health effects related to tobacco use can be mitigated, though there is no scientific backing to support any of these claims.

This is particularly concerning considering how prevalent the dangers associated with vaping have become and how many young people have taken up the habit.

“This suggested to us that the misleading tobacco videos we identified on YouTube are part of the information environment that eludes the restrictions that apply to regular tobacco advertising and product promotion,” said researcher Patrick E. Jamieson.

Not only are these videos misleading, but they also go against YouTube guidelines that prohibit tobacco advertisements. Moreover, they serve as a source of income for those posting them and for YouTube.

“As our study of YouTube illustrates, producers of misleading tobacco content can primarily represent private individuals rather than tobacco manufacturers,” said researcher Dan Romer. “Indeed, the producers of the tobacco videos we identified…do not appear to be employees of the tobacco industry, it is nevertheless possible that a content creator could receive endorsement payments from a tobacco company.”

Telling the true story

According to the researchers, the best way to combat these videos is with the truth. It’s crucial that consumers are getting the right information.

On platforms like YouTube where these videos are most prevalent, setting up ads or videos with content that debunks these misleading messages is key to setting the record straight.

Kristen Dalli/Consumer Affairs