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Concern over online tobacco ads

Tobacco companies could be using interactive websites such as YouTube to market their products to young people, according to a study.

Tobacco brands have always vehemently denied advertising on the internet, and several signed a voluntary agreement to restrict direct advertising online by the end of 2002.

But a study published online by the Tobacco Control journal found more than 20 "very professionally made" video clips in a YouTube search for any reference to five tobacco brands - Marlboro, L&M, Benson and Hedges, Winston and Mild Seven.

Marlboro, L&M, Winston and Mild Seven are the top four brands by world sales.

Researchers analysed 163 clips from the first 20 pages of the search on YouTube, chosen because it has the largest market share of the online video market.

The clips included the 40 most viewed for Marlboro, Winston and Benson and Hedges, 24 English language videos for Mild Seven and 19 for L&M cigarettes.

The videos associated with Marlboro were the most heavily viewed, attracting an average of almost 104,000 views each.

One had received two million views.

Almost three-quarters of the content (71%) was classified as "pro-tobacco", with less than 4% classified as "anti-tobacco", the study found.

Most of the clips (70%) contained images of people smoking branded tobacco products, and most contained brand content or the brand name in the title. Of 40 Marlboro videos, 39 had the name Marlboro in the title and 33 appeared to be related to the brand, with images of a man on a horse or the Marlboro advertisement theme.

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