Monday, July 1, 2013

Why ban marijuana advertising?

Companies that sell alcohol and tobacco have similar marketing strategies according to Dr. Ken Flegel, Senior Associate Editor for the Canadian Medical Association Journal.   In a recent editorial in the Journal, Dr. Flegel makes the argument that like tobacco companies, the alcoholic beverage industry has recognized that a good way to increase profits is to target young female consumers – and this has left adolescent girls, who also see the ads, particularly vulnerable.  Dr. Flegel offers some insight into responsibility and potential strategies. Here is a link to the article:

Dr. Flegel’s editorial provides another example of the importance of limiting, if not banning, marijuana advertising.  For years, the Center for Alcohol Marketing and Youth has tracked alcohol advertising and how youth continue to be targeted, despite alcohol industry promises not to.  Based on experiences with alcohol and tobacco advertising, Prevention WINS made suggestions to the Liquor Control Board about marijuana advertising:  

While we are pleased that some limits on advertising are proposed, we recommend a full ban on marijuana advertising. 

Myriad research shows that there is a connection between alcohol and tobacco advertising and youth consumption of alcohol and tobacco.  When looking at the link between advertising and underage drinking, the Center for Alcohol Marketing and Youth reports that exposure to alcohol advertising shapes attitudes and perceptions about alcohol use among adolescents.  These attitudes and perceptions predict their positive expectancies and intentions to drink.  A complete ban on alcohol advertising would be the most effective alcohol policy for reducing underage drinking. 

Despite the finding that a ban on alcohol advertising would likely be a best practice for reducing underage drinking, the reality is that alcohol advertising is not banned and regulations are weak.  Therefore, if the Board decides not to ban marijuana advertising we urge you to refer to tobacco advertising restrictions to guide marijuana advertising regulations.

The State of Washington is part of the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) that imposes significant prohibitions or restrictions on advertising, marketing and promotional programs or activities.  In addition to a general ban on direct and indirect targeting of minors in advertising and marketing of tobacco products, the MSA specifically:

  • Bans cartoons and any drawing or other depiction of an object, person, animal creature or any similar caricature that comically exaggerates features, attributes human characteristics to animals, plants or other objects, or uses similar anthropomorphic technique or attributes unnatural or extra human abilities.
  • Prohibits billboards and other outdoor advertising except for limited advertising where tobacco is sold.
  • Bans payments for product placement of branded tobacco products in entertainment media.
  • Bans distribution of brand name merchandise except in limited circumstances.
  • Prohibits allowing third parties to use tobacco brand names.
  • Bans lobbying against certain kinds of tobacco control legislation.
  • Bans agreements between tobacco companies to suppress health-related research and product development.
  • Bans material misrepresentations of fact regarding the health consequences of using tobacco products.  
Marijuana business websites should be prohibited from including advertising and marketing tools that are attractive to minors.  This includes advertising and marketing tools on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, blogs, Instagram, Pinterest, and other social media platforms.  Widgets, videos, e-cards, and other electronic forms of advertising and marketing, especially those that may easily be cut-and-pasted or embedded in personal Internet and social media sites should also be prohibited.     

Though not included with the comments, below is a screenshot of a game included in a free iPhone app from a rum company.  Similar methods for marketing marijuana products should be banned.  

Additional comments about marijuana advertising are included in the letter to the Liquor Control Board.  

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