A new study reports that some utensil stores are using scams from old playbooks of alcohol and tobacco companies to target underage users on social media.
Despite state laws restricting such marketing, researchers have found that marijuana retailers on social media promote their goods through posts that:
- Characteristic cartoon characters such as Snoopy, SpongeBob SquarePants and Rick and Morty.
- Display branded merchandise such as hats and T-shirts.
- Discounts and deals offered, such as Memorial Day sales or regular Friday specials.
“These types of restricted content mainly come from evidence about the ways tobacco and alcohol companies have used it to attract young people,” said lead author Dr. Megan Moreno, chair of the division of general pediatrics and adolescent medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“For example, discounts and promotions are actually ways to get young people to use your products because they are very price sensitive, and branded content is a way to attract young people because they want hats and T-shirts,” she said.
For this study, Moreno and her colleagues decided to examine how pot stores use social media to market their wares, looking specifically at four “early adopters” of the legislation: Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and Alaska.
“The only marketing wild west is still social media, and one of the problems with social media is that these platforms are frequented by young people,” Moreno said. “Essentially, we were wondering what’s going on in a lightly regulated environment populated by young people, and how cannabis companies benefit from that.”
For the study, researchers evaluated one year of publicly displayed posts on Facebook and Instagram from companies located in the four states.
One piece of good news – of the 80 recreational weed vendors identified by the researchers, only 16 had a presence on each of their social media sites, and two of these companies deleted their pages during the study period. The researchers concluded 2,660 submissions from 14 companies.
The study reported that about 35% of publications included discounts or promotions, although this marketing is restricted. About 7% of posts used pop culture references, 6% featured branded products in stores, and 6% appealed to young adults through the use of cartoon characters.
About 12% of social media posts also promoted the idea that you should use marijuana products until you are very weak.
“In alcohol ads, you don’t often see ads that say things like, ‘Hey, use our products until you get drunk,'” Moreno said. Use our product so you can achieve better engagement.” “This isn’t strictly allowed in the alcohol literature, but we see a lot of this content in the cannabis literature, we say things like ‘Use our product to rise, use our product to get to that top spot we know you want to go’. to him “- really push people towards the idea that you have to use it so that you feel weak.”
Linda Richter, vice president of prevention research and analysis at the Addiction Elimination Partnership, noted that all of this is happening in states that have “some of the strictest youth protection provisions in recreational or adult marijuana laws.”
Because of this, she said, “The results are likely to be quite conservative with regard to how far cannabis companies are deviating from government marketing restrictions and requirements, such that the actual case is probably worse and more harmful to adolescents than is reflected in this study.”
Richter added that, “There is no doubt, based on years of research on tobacco and alcohol advertising and more recent research on marijuana, that advertising and marketing that either attracts young people or exposes young people to the positive aspects of marijuana has a significant impact on adolescents’ attitudes and behaviors around marijuana use.”
Such approaches have been strongly associated in research studies with “lower perceptions of marijuana risks, more acceptance of marijuana use as usual, and more intentions for marijuana use among young adults,” Richter said.
The researchers found that social media posts also did a poor job, including the messages required by law in marijuana marketing. For example, a quarter of cited publications could only be used by those 21 or older, and a similar percentage urged readers to avoid driving with a disability.
One problem, Moreno said, is that regulations surrounding the marketing of marijuana vary from state to state. Of the four states, only Alaska and Washington ban sales and promotions, for example, while Washington only bans brand-name merchandise.
Until recreational pot is legalized at the federal level, you are unlikely to see uniform laws or regulations governing the marketing of these products, said Paul Arminano, deputy director of NORML, an advocacy group that promotes reform of marijuana laws.
“Any potential standardization of rules and regulations governing the marketing of cannabis products would likely be impossible in a legal environment where cannabis remains illegal federally, thus leaving the creation and enforcement of such standards to individual states and localities for the foreseeable future,” Armentano said.
Moreno said states should consider banning marijuana marketing from social media, considering that young people make up about 70% of the audience for a site like Instagram.
If not, she said states should require social media platforms to limit marketing to people of legal age.
“The alcohol industry has really done a great job with this,” Moreno said. “If you use Instagram and you are under the age of 21, you can’t even find or access any alcohol content put up by alcohol companies. This is called aging, which means that content doesn’t appear even if you are of age.”
She added that states could also ramp up enforcement of their existing rules around the marketing of utensils, with tough fines imposed to discourage violators.
“A lot of companies and a lot of policy makers are still trying to figure out how to deal with social media,” Moreno said. “I think there’s a view that it’s not realistic, it’s not realistic, it doesn’t really matter, or it’s ephemeral.”
“I think now is a good time for us to think about the reach and impact of this content, as we think about the different ways it’s affected our lives in COVID, politics, and all kinds of different ways,” she added. “I think it’s time to realize that what happens on social media is real life. It took us some time as a society to discover that we can organize as real life.”
Arminano said such regulations are part of the upper and legal market power, adding that NORML supports restrictions banning advertising in public places or marketing aimed at young people.
“In legitimate markets, licensed players are incentivized to abide by regulations – such as restrictions on the way products can be advertised and marketed – while in unregulated illegal markets, participants are not forced to play by any rules,” he said. . “Unauthorized and illegal players have no qualms about marketing their products to young people, have no incentive to verify identity to establish age, and have little, if any, motivation to change their behaviours.”
The new study was recently published online in the Journal of Alcohol and Drug Studies.
The Truth Initiative offers more about legal marijuana and youth.
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