A single anonymous complaint was received by the ASA after Vape Station, a small independent bricks and mortar store in Bacup, Lancashire, placed an advert in a magazine.
The advert had six pictures of electronic cigarettes and features the following banner texts: "OVER 80 UK Manufactured flavours to choose from", "THE HEALTHIER OPTION TO CIGARETTE SMOKING", and "MATONAY UK E-LIQUIDS AND ELECTRONIC CIGARETTES".
The body of text in the advert stated: “If you vape, you need Vape Station. We are the region's favourite supplier of electronic cigarettes, e-liquids and next generation vaping devices, with a huge array of high quality e-cig accessories to match. Electronic Cigarettes are simple, refreshing and SMOKE FREE!”
The nameless busybody making the complaint expressed concern that the advert promoted vaping in a magazine, and thought the ASA should act.
Vape Station told the ASA that they believed the advert complied with the advertising regulations, as it didn’t reference a particular brand of electronic cigarette. The store argued that the advert was simply promoting themselves as a business and was not pushing vapers towards a particular product or encouraging non-vapers to vape.
The ASA ruled that: “Rule 22. 12 of the CAP Code reflected a legislative ban contained in the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 (TRPR) on the advertising of unlicensed, nicotine-containing e-cigarettes in certain media. The rule stated that, except for media targeted exclusively to the trade, ‘advertisements with the direct or indirect effect of promoting nicotine-containing e-cigarettes and their components which are not licensed as medicines’ were not permitted in newspapers and magazines.”
In short, they took issue with images of electronic cigarettes, the “health” claim (of vaping being the healthier option), and mentioning the “Matonay” brand.
However, the judgement noted that rule 22. 12 does not mean advertising is prohibited. Plus, the judgement leaves confusion as to what the government can do to promote vaping as a quit method – now the NHS is encouraging it.
Vape Station was instructed not to run the advert again. The ASA told them that to conform to rule 22.12, a future advert should ensure it “did not show images of, make claims about or reference the brand name of unlicensed nicotine-containing e-cigarettes or e-liquids.”
A spokesperson for the ASA is quoted as saying that it’s currently a legal minefield but that future action to address this will be taken. Given the government’s plan to promote vaping in a stronger fashion after Brexit this could mean a sensible relaxation of the advertising regulations.
Christopher Snowdon, director of lifestyle economics at the Institute for Economic Affairs: “The law is even worse than this ruling implies. Even a generic appeal to smokers to switch to vaping would contravene the new EU Tobacco Products Directive. If the UK government ran a stop-smoking campaign on television that encouraged vaping, it would be breaking the law. It's an absurd state of affairs."