Tobacco ads banned on YouTube but tobacco videos in high demand on the channel

Ads on vaping and tobacco products are banned on YouTube, but the viewership of tobacco videos on YouTube has been found to be high.

Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) researchers found out there has been a sharp increase in viewership for tutorial videos on vaping products, which include vapes, vaporizers, vape pens, hookah pens, e-cigarettes and e-pipes.

Tobacco videos trending in various categories

The APPC research covered five categories of tobacco videos trending on YouTube. The highest performing video of 2013 was on how to use a pipe with more than 62,000 views. The most viewed video in 2019 was "art of vape" which crossed 40 million views.

Another category was smoking tobacco in which the most viewed video had 85,000 views in 2013. A video in the same category saw over 3.5 million views in 2019.

Packs of Marlboro cigarettes, a pack of Camel cigarettes, and a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes
Packs of Marlboro cigarettes, a pack of Camel cigarettes, and a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes Reuters

YouTube influence on adolescence

YouTube is the most popular website in the US after Google. It has potential to influence young people. Although use of cigarettes has been declining, use of vapor products has increased sharply in recent years.

"Although we have no direct evidence of the effect of pro-vaping videos, the rise of vaping among adolescents in the last few years has been accompanied by dramatic increases in viewership of vaping videos," said lead author Dan Romer, APPC's research director.

Though YouTube has banned ads on tobacco products, both YouTube and tobacco video creators are legally permitted to make profits. Any social media platform is not regarded as publisher of content they host under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA). Romer suggested that it is time to revisit the measures of the CDA to more appropriately recognize the business model that has emerged in social media.

APPC researchers found that one way to deal with misleading videos is to place ads that counter tobacco videos on the same page.