Social media and tobacco control in Germany, Switzerland and Austria
The advent of social media such as Facebook and user-generated content sites such as YouTube have changed the face of marketing, opening up a world of opportunity for tobacco companies otherwise constrained by all those pesky advertising restrictions. This presents tobacco control with a constantly moving target and new challenges not imagined as recently as 5 years ago - but it is also bringing revolutions in some unexpected places.
In July 2010, the German state of Bavaria voted in favour of a total indoor smoking ban, an extraordinary achievement given years of false starts and Germany having one of the strongest tobacco lobbies in Europe. The vote was held after a petition initiated by politician Sebastian Frankenberger, a member of the Ecological Democratic Party and savvy user of Facebook. He says social media had not previously been important in German political campaigns, but Facebook was crucial to success for this campaign. With nearly 30,000 members, he used it as a forum to generate campaign ideas from supporters, to recruit volunteers to hand out information on the streets, and to plan how to target the campaign - especially in country areas where fewer people use the internet. As a result, the petition for the vote attracted 1.3 million signatures, forcing the Bavarian Government to either adopt the legislation or hold a referendum. They chose to go to a referendum, and the yes vote succeeded with a 61% majority.
The non-smoking majority had long been denied the right to protection from environmental tobacco smoke by the powerful political and media connections of the tobacco lobby in Germany. It is hard to imagine that this vote could have happened without the use of Facebook - Frankenberger says the last referendum in 1998 was far more difficult to realise. This vote is a great example of the power of social media to advance tobacco control, and cut through the lies, obfuscation, deception - and political power - of the tobacco industry. More information about the referendum and to link to the Facebook page is available at:
http://www.nichtraucherschutz-bayern.de/index.php (German only - for translation into other languages, www.translate.google.com is highly recommended)
Another great example of Facebook helping to advance tobacco control is http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=164459423914, a page which was set up last year to end Davidoff sponsorship of the Swiss Indoor tennis event. The campaign attracted support from several countries and faced legal challenges along the way, but eventually won - the sponsors withdrew last month! Read more by going to the link.
In Austria, a Facebook group has been set up to generate support for a citizen's petition to implement comprehensive indoor smoking bans. It has over 110,000 members, enough to force the government to consider the issue. The link to page is at http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/group.php?gid=207474724730&v=wall&ref=ts (German only).
Do you know of other examples of successes in tobacco control using social media? Please let us know!