Ad watchdog cracks down on e-cigarette ads

The advertising watchdog has launched a crackdown into e-cigarette companies that do not make it clear enough in their marketing their products contain nicotine and are not available to consumers under the age of 18.


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The Advertising Standards Authority’s wave of adjudications against e-cigarette brands this week comes three months after the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency announced all nicotine containing products, including e-cigarettes, were to be regulated as medicines.

The European Commission expects the new legislation to be adopted in 2013 and for it to come into effect in the UK from 2016. Until then, e-cigarettes will continue to be regulated as consumer products in the UK – although products sharing features with tobacco can only be advertised providing the ad implies no reference to smoking or a tobacco product and if it does not make any medicinal claims.

Among the brands censured this week was E-Lites, the first e-cigarette TV ad broadcast in the UK, which – among other creative in the brand’s marketing campaign across radio, digital and outdoor – drew 65 complaints.

The TV ad showed a family gathering where a number of adults were admiring a baby. One of the men got up, tapped his shirt pocket and left the room, after which the baby began to perform an energetic dance routine to the song “Gangnam Style”. The man who left the room returned from outside, asking “So, what have I missed?” to a shocked audience, while on-screen text stated “E-Lites. What are you missing? E-Lites.co.uk”.

The ASA considered e-cigarettes to still be a relatively new product in the UK, meaning it was important ads made the nature of the product being advertised clear and, particularly, whether or not they contain nicotine. It ruled the ad was likely to “mislead” customers by omitting the information.

The watchdog found the ad also breached the code because it would be of particular interest to children given its reference to smoking and to whom the baby and dance moves would be engaging.

E-Lites owner Zandera said the ad did not directly reference nicotine-based products, show the e-cigarette, claim any benefits nor directly depict smoking. The company believed the ad did not “normalise” the act of smoking and was “not in any way” irresponsible or harmful.

An E-Lites radio ad was also banned by the regulator on the grounds of being “misleading” for failing to include information about the product’s ingredients.

The ad was also cleared by broadcast clearing body Clearcast which said while e-cigarettes may be a “controversial” product, they were legal and not proven to be harmful. Clearcast said it would be going beyond what was laid down in the advertising code to the refuse all e-cigarette advertising on the grounds of social responsibility or harm.

Elsewhere this week, separate TV ads for the Sky Cigs, 5 Colors and Ten Motives e-cigarette brands were also banned for failing to make clear the products advertised were an e-cigarette, for not displaying nicotine content and for omitting to flag up they were only available to buy for consumers over 18.


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