Tobacco manufacturer Philip Morris International has suspended the use of influencers to promote its products.
This comes after news that one of their ambassadors was below the age of 25. An investigation published by Reuters found that Russian social media influencer Alina Tapilina was only 21 and paid to promote the company's IQOS product via her social channels.
"Upon learning of these allegations, PMI immediately initiated and concluded an internal investigation and took swift action to address an instance of influencer engagement in breach of our digital influencer guidance," the company told PR Week.
"We were deeply disappointed to discover this breach and are grateful that it was brought to our attention in order that we could take swift and comprehensive steps to address our mistake.
"We immediately suspended our product-related digital influencer actions to avoid the risk of similar incidents occurring in the future. We are not proud that a mistake was made, but what really matters is outcomes.”
Up in smoke
Philip Morris recently told PR Week that it doesn't work with influencers under the age of 25, which is the minimum for tobacco influencers in the UK. However, there is no age restriction anywhere else in the world.
While the company has not broken any laws, it has actively showed dishonesty within its influencer marketing strategy, something that the space is working hard to eradicate.
Tapilina's post was published on Instagram and asked her fans if they had “switched to iQOS yet” to promote the product.
Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids president Matthew Myers also released a statement to PRWeek commenting on the issue and suggesting that Philip Morris has only taken these steps because it was caught.
“For months, Philip Morris has marketed IQOS on social media to millions of young people, and they didn’t stop until they were caught," Myers said.
"While Philip Morris tried to spin the issue as an isolated mistake of paying a 21-year-old social media influencer in Russia, Reuters documented multiple examples of how they have marketed IQOS on Instagram, often using young, attractive influencers.”