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ASA’s Idiotic Ruling Against IBVTA

The Advertising Standards Authority has ruled that an Independent British Vape Trade Association advertorial breached advertising code despite being nothing but truthful and honest

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Britain's freshly oppressive anti-vaping landscape became darker today as the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) published its ruling against the Independent British Vape Trade Association (IBVTA). The ruling confirms that there is an effective ban on all forms of advertising unless directed solely at the trade. This comes as misunderstanding about vaping continues to increase and the majority of adults now believe vaping is as or more harmful than smoking.

The ASA stated: “A press advertorial from the Independent British Vape Trade Association (IBVTA) seen in the East Lothian Courier on 26 October 2023, featured the headline ‘Let’s clear the smoke of confusion: Vaping saves smokers’ lives’. The article contained an image of the Chair of the IBVTA, standing in front of a billboard that stated, ‘Vaping instead of smoking, helps saves smokers’ lives’. Further text in the image of the poster stated ‘Always buy from reputable retailers’.

“Text in the ad stated, ‘a constant stream of negative headlines is eroding the public’s understanding of vaping’s benefits, particularly among smokers’. Further text stated, ‘the IBVTA is now seeking to challenge some of the misinformation we’ve seen over recent months and to educate smokers about the benefits of vaping’. Further text stated, ‘the IBVTA, representing the UK’s leading independent vape manufacturers, importers, distributors, and vendors, is launching a major national public information campaign to meet this responsibility. This campaign is accompanied by substantial new consumer insights that provide a comprehensive view of vaping, its various devices, and how smokers are using them to quit’. Further text stated, ‘Our research uncovers the different types of vaping devices used by smokers at various stages of their quitting journey’.”

The ASA says it challenged whether the advertorial breached the Code by promoting unlicensed, nicotine-containing e-cigarettes and their components in a newspaper.

The ASA upheld the complaint, saying the ad promoted e-cigarettes generally and should not be published again.

It said: “We told the Independent British Vape Trade Association that marketing communications with the direct or indirect effect of promoting nicotine-containing e-cigarettes and their components, which were not licensed as medicines, should not be published in a newspaper that is not covered by the exception to media targeted exclusively to the trade.”

The Independent British Vape Trade Association’s response

The Independent British Vape Trade Association is a not-for-profit trade body funded by independent vaping businesses. As such we do not sell or supply vaping products of any type, and we do not promote any specific brand or vaping product.

“The IBVTA is committed to promoting a responsible vaping sector that is a partner to government and individuals on the smoking cessation journey. We strongly support the government’s smokefree strategy, which aims for a smokefree UK by 2030 (Scotland by 2034). This strategy is key to improving the health of consumers and the health of the nation. In fact, research indicates that if just half of England’s adult smokers switched to vapes it would save the NHS more than £500 million per year.

“According to research from Action on Smoking and Health, 40% of people now believe vaping is as or more harmful than smoking, an increase in 60% in just 3 years.

“Another survey study of 28,393 adults who smoke, led by Dr Sarah Jackson of University College London and published in February of this year, found that harm perceptions of e-cigarettes have worsened substantially over the last decade, such that in 2023, most (57.0%) believed e-cigarettes to be equally (33.7%) or more (23.3%) harmful than cigarettes.

“This is inaccurate, and the government’s own data suggests that vaping is considerably safer than smoking

“The reality shows that vaping is a key step on the journey towards quitting smoking. An IBVTA member commissioned survey of 6,000 smokers and ex-smokers across the country last summer found that 37% of ex-smokers and 46% of regular smokers have tried a vaping device to help them quit smoking. These findings chime with the ambition of the government’s ‘Swap to Stop’ scheme, which will provide vapes to one million smokers to help them quit. The facts highlight the role that vaping can play with the number of 18-year-olds who regularly smoke falling from 24.5% in 2021 to 19.5% in 2022, a 20% decrease in one year alone. A 12% drop in smoking was also recorded amongst 25-year-olds over the same period.

“To support the UK’s smoke free journey, and the role of our industry in supporting it, last September we launched a six-month national campaign aimed at dispelling some of the myths and confusion around vaping. As part of that campaign, we prepared some sponsored advertorials for publication in newspapers, outlining the findings of that research survey and which included a link to the campaign webpage on our website.

“The IBVTA considered the advertorial to be factual, not promotional, in nature. It did not reference a specific brand or vaping product, and it presented information that could be readily substantiated. Towards the end of the advertorial we included the line “Always buy from reputable retailers”, as a reminder to buy from a reputable retailer, rather than retailers who were trading illicit products, or were otherwise breaking the law.

“The agency who prepared the ad on our behalf had submitted the ad to the CAP Copy Advice team in September 2023, who had not raised its publication in a newspaper as an issue at that time.

“However, in February of this year the ASA decided to investigate if our ad as it appeared in a Scottish newspaper in October 2023 had the indirect effect of promoting e-cigarettes which were not licensed as medicines and they have now concluded that it breached the Advertising Code.

“A YouGov survey in January of this year found that less than a quarter of British adults surveyed could correctly identify that smoking is far more harmful than vaping.

“The IBVTA is therefore disappointed that adjusting the balance of misinformation in the media is not deemed legal through any paid advertorial means, not least when we sought the CAP Copy Advice Team’s advice to ensure that as always, we were acting with utmost integrity and responsibility.”

The truth is illegal

This situation is unsustainable.

The IBVTA was doing excellent work in trying to combat adult misunderstanding about vaping – something the Kahn Review’s recommendations demanded the Government do itself, but still failed to implement.

The IBVTA’s advertorial was not marketing vapes, it was addressing concerns and wrongly held beliefs in order to assuage worries about swapping.

Health bodies, harm reduction experts and vapers need to press upon ministers and their local MPs of the need for urgent reform to the Advertising Code.

Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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