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Tobacco, nicotine and counter-marketing promotions using Instagram’s branded content tool


Background The social media conglomerate, Meta, has a policy prohibiting promotion of tobacco products, vaporisers, electronic cigarettes or other products that simulate smoking via their branded content tools. This study examines if branded Instagram posts comply with these self-regulatory efforts.

Methods We analysed the presence and content of tobacco/nicotine promotion, as well as counter-marketing, in a sample of 400 branded/paid partnership-labelled Instagram posts with tobacco/nicotine-related terms made between 31 July 2022 and 31 March 2023, gathered from Meta’s CrowdTangle tool and classified by CrowdTangle as being in English.

Results Of the 217 active branded posts that mentioned or depicted tobacco/nicotine products, most promoted rather than countered the sale of such products (84.3% vs 15.7%, respectively). Posts originating from US Instagram users accounted for 42.6% of promotional content. After the USA, posts from Indonesia (19.1%), Pakistan (9.8%) and India (8.2%) were most frequent. Most posts were fully in English (74.9%). Posts featured hookah (39.4%), electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) accessories (17.5%), ENDS devices and e-liquids (16.9%) and various types of cigars (15.3%). The majority of US posts promoted venues or events where tobacco/nicotine products were featured (71.8%). Almost half of all promotional posts (47.0%) were sponsored by tobacco industry accounts. Posts that encouraged cessation were primarily (47.1%) sponsored by non-government organisations.

Conclusion Despite attempts at self-regulation, paid partnership posts promoting tobacco and nicotine products are present on Instagram, especially posts promoting venues and events that feature tobacco and nicotine use. Self-regulation of this content shows limited success, suggesting a need for federal oversight and additional counter-marketing in social media settings.


  • Linnea Laestadius
  • Kelsey Van Hoorn
  • Julia Vassey
  • Jenny Ozga
  • Cassandra Stanton
  • Dongmei Li
  • Eileen Han
  • Daniel Romer