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Big Tobacco is fighting dirty against the emerging vaping industry.

Following a two-year tobacco marketing study, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Netnografica released information on the big boys’ underhanded tactics to attract brand attention via discreet social media advertising practices, the entities stated.

The tobacco marketing study findings claimed to discover more than 100 social media campaigns by tobacco companies with an international reach, including British American Tobacco, Imperial Brands, Japan Tobacco International, and Philip Morris International.

With the aid of nine public health and medical groups, the collective released its finalized data online and had a petition delivered to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Netnografica is a Los Angeles-based market research company specializing in creating “actionable insights by extracting meaning from online conversations” for Fortune 500 enterprises. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids remains an independent, non-profit agency which does not accept funding from government agencies or tobacco lobbyists, according to the companies’ websites.

Celebrities, often paid with a “handshake,” are among Big Tobacco’s favorite underground messengers, the association reported.

Netnografica interviewed a number of social media insiders and a score implied tobacco companies were known to pay “under the table” to coordinate cigarette advertising for popular online platforms, namely Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Despite social media sites not being permitted to accept paid tobacco advertising, the practice apparently continues to trend up.

“Tobacco companies proclaim that they don’t target kids,” Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids President Matthew L. Myers was quoted as saying. “This investigation shows they are doing the exact opposite.”

Myers pointed to a number of apparent practices Big Tobacco companies perfected to spread their message and get an upper hand on the rising vaping industry.

The international giants are doing it “with a level of sophistication that threatens to addict a new generation,” Myers said, “and set back progress in reducing smoking around the world.”

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