ASA states: “the evidence for the relative safety of e-cigarettes has improved, alongside a regulatory regime to set product standards. In light of these sector-wide changes, CAP and BCAP consider that an absolute prohibition on health claims in lawful ads for e-cigarettes can no longer be justified.”
A consultation was carried out on the proposed change. ASA writes: “A majority of respondents supported the proposal, including ASH, Cancer Research, Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians as well as those in the e-cigarette industry.”
Respondents highlighted various key points:
- Product quality has improved markedly since 2014
- E-cigarettes are a less harmful than tobacco
- E-cigarettes have a significant role to play in smoking cessation
- Public understanding of the much lower risk is limited
- Public understanding of the much lower risk appears to be declining
- Marketers were unable to correct this misunderstanding through their own advertising
Some opposed the change, they included:
- ASH Scotland
- The British Medical Association
- The Trading Standards Institute
- The Faculty of Public Health
Although ASA do not provide examples of what is allowed in future, it says: “When making health claims for e-cigarettes marketers must ensure that those claims are not misleading, and hold robust evidence to substantiate them in line with CAP’s Advertising Guidance on Substantiation for Health Claims.”
ASA advises that companies should not make any claim that vaping is “absolutely safe”, will lead to “positive health benefits”, or that vaping should be encourage alongside smoking.
Oddly, adverts will be unable to refer to reports like the one produced by Public Health England. ASA says this will be seen as trying to imply that PHE supports that product. Also, adverts still can’t state that vaping helps as a smoking cessation tool – despite the growing evidence it most certainly does.
The changes will be reviewed in twelve months to see if any issues have arisen.
The UK Vaping Industry Association said the move was “great news”, and welcomed that its members would now be allowed to tell smokers the truth about vaping and that it is at least 95% less harmful than cigarettes.
In response to the ASA’s amendment to advertising rules for e-cigarettes, Dan Marchant, board member of the UKVIA and Managing Director of online juice supplier VapeClub said: “I welcome the decision of the Advertising Standards Agency to change its rules so that health claims are no longer banned from adverts about vaping products.”
“Public Health England are clear that vaping is at least 95% less harmful than smoking, and its potential to help smokers quit has been backed by public health groups from the Royal College of Physicians to Cancer Research. But despite this support, it has previously not been possible for us to spread the positive news to consumers, and the public perception of vaping has suffered as a result.”
“Although some questions remain about how the new rules will be applied to particular products and businesses, it is right that advertising rules are now starting to catch up so we can share factual information with smokers about this potentially life changing alternative. Only by building confidence in the health benefits of vaping will it be possible to convince every smoker that switching to vaping could positively change their lives.”
“However, it also remains the case that the ability of the industry to advertise its products is still constricted by the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive which only allows advertising in very limited forums with no apparent consistency. The UK’s exit from the EU provides an ideal opportunity to amend these rules to further bring advertising regulations into line with vaping’s recognised public health potential.”
As the changes are immediate, we will see how the industry and CAP and BCAP respond over the following months. Should any company overstep the mark they will simply be asked to remove the advert and not re-run it. Thus, the picture will become clearer over what is permissible during the first quarter of 2019.