Tobacco, a survey warns, has stepped up its marketing strategies on web 2.0 media, such as YouTube, to better target their products to young people.
Even though tobacco companies have denied advertising on the Internet, researchers searched through the first 20 pages of video clips on YouTube containing any reference to five tobacco brands.
AdvertisementThe five brands are Marlboro and L and M, marketed by Philip Morris; Benson and Hedges, marketed by both British American Tobacco and Gallagher; and Winston and Mild Seven, marketed by Japan Tobacco and Reynolds.
The authors analysed 163 relevant clips in all, over 20 of which appeared to be "very professionally made", they said.
The clips included the 40 most viewed for Marlboro, Winston cigarettes, and Benson and Hedges; 24 English language videos for Mild Seven; and 19 for L and M cigarettes.
Those videos associated with Marlboro were the most heavily viewed, totting up an average of almost 104,000 views each, with one attracting 2 million views alone.
Almost three quarters of the content found (71 percent) was classified as "pro-tobacco", with less than 4 percent classified as "anti-tobacco".
Most (70 percent) of the sample clips contained brand images of people smoking branded tobacco products, and most video clips for every brand studied, except Marlboro, contained brand content or the brand name in the title.
Out of 40 Marlboro videos, 39 had the name Marlboro in the title. Thirty-three appeared to be related to the brand- for example, containing images of a man on a horse or the Marlboro advertisement theme.
Almost one in three (30 percent) of the Marlboro video clips studied featured music, and one in four (25 percent) featured celebrities/movies.
Around half of Mild Seven (54 percent) and Benson and Hedges (45 percent) had a sports theme.
"The arguments used to limit tobacco imagery in film and TV appear to apply to Internet videos," the authors said.
"Policy development by governments and/or the World Health Organization is needed to encourage or require website operators to add pro-tobacco imagery or brand content to the material they will remove, so as to reduce youth exposure to such material," they concluded.
The research has been published online in Tobacco Control.