Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids battles Google Play

Fail to Address the Google AdWords Loophole

November 5, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. - In recent weeks, the organization Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids together with 179 other organizations across 62 countries put forward a campaign to push Google to remove apps on Google Play that promote smoking or vaping, an effort in preventing youth exposure to these addictive products. While a worthy effort, this focus on Google Play fails to address a key area of potential unintended exposure to all nicotine enjoyment products: Google’s search engine.

When you search for terms, Google ranks and returns the site with the most relevant information; we all know this. It is also widely understood that one can buy these top rankings and it is here that Google drives revenues from advertisement via AdWords. But what is not in focus here is while Google does prohibit ads for tobacco and e-cigarettes/vape, Google’s stance on ads for other nicotine enjoyment products is unclear, and therefore its enforcement of banning all nicotine ads is inconsistent, at best. Currently, if a manufacturer or seller of these other nicotine products, such as pouches and chew, wishes to compete and attract adult consumers seeking their products to their sites, they find they must bid on AdWords and earn the right to purchase an ad spot.

While manufacturers and online sellers broadly do their due diligence to ensure only adults are able to purchase nicotine products on their sites, the necessity and possibility of “Pay Per Click” marketing for these products in order to compete presents the opportunity for unintended exposure; a far less likely possibility if these ads were banned. This requires further diligence on behalf of online sellers and advertisers – like us at – to constantly audit ad placements and consider context against possible individual search intent: an impossible feat considering the sophisticated individualization of search engine returns.

Say you are looking for a white toiletry bag with lemons on it and search for the terms, “lemon white pouch”. Google’s top organic results may be for various lemon makeup pouches and toiletry bags, but it may also return ads sorted over top of the organic results for citrus flavored white nicotine pouches sold by various manufacturers/sellers if they bid on those terms – a would-be intuitive purchase term for this product category.

Our mission at is to generate real change in the industry, inspiring alternative nicotine enjoyment for adults seeking alternatives to inhalants. Yet, this is the arena that we and others like us, find ourselves competing in. We ask for Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids to join us in our request for Google to establish and enforce a clear “no nicotine advertisement” policy.

- Markus Lindblad, Head of External Affairs at