Study shows cannabis companies use marketing that appeals to kids

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MADISON, Wis. — A new study from the UW School of Medicine and Public Health shows that recreational cannabis companies use marketing that appeals to children and teens.

Laws in multiple states prohibit such advertising.

Dr. Megan Moreno led the study, which looked at one year of social media posts from marijuana companies in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, where recreational use of the drug is legal.

Moreno said the advertisements can be easily viewed by everybody, including kids.

“As a pediatrician, I know that marketing and advertisements have a strong influence on kids and teens,” Moreno said. “Previous studies have shown how alcohol and tobacco companies’ marketing is associated with youth using these products.”

The study looked at 2,660 posts from 14 different companies and found that 35% of posts advertised discounts or promotions. These types of advertisements are illegal.

Less than half of the posts contained the required safety warnings for products being advertised.

“Some cannabis companies generated dozens of social media posts per day,” Moreno said. “No current system in place to monitor or enforce these regulations on this scale.”

According to Moreno, the observed companies used content to appeal to young people, such as young models and cartoon characters. The companies also marketed to people with budgetary constraints, despite state regulations.

“It is important for parents to know that cannabis companies are actively sharing youth-friendly and restricted content,” Moreno said. “Parents should talk with their kids about how cannabis companies seek to influence them.”

Moreno recommends policymakers increase enforcement of rules and regulations regarding social media advertising, which could include banning cannabis companies from using social media altogether because of the ease of access for children.