UK vaping companies have come under scrutiny from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) after being accused of promoting nicotine-containing e-cigarettes on social media.
Posts made by British American Tobacco (BAT), Ama Vape, Attitude Vapes, and Global Vaping Group on Instagram showed young-looking models (under 25) and celebrities such as Lilly Allen holding e-cigarettes. The posts appear to be targeted at a younger audience and glamorise the use of the product.
Adverts promoting such products are banned on social media, and the ASA’s ruling means that these posts must not appear again in their current form.
Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, one of the groups that complained about the ads said the ruling was “a huge step forward”.
In a statement, the group said: “While the ASA ruling is great news, urgent policy change is needed from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to prevent BAT and other tobacco companies from using social media to advertise their harmful products to young people around the world”.
UK anti-smoking groups Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) and Stopping Tobacco Organisations and Products (Stop), also supported the complaint against the firms.
BAT responded saying its online communications “aimed to impart factual information regarding products but stopped short of direct or indirect promotion.”
BAT’s Instagram, @govype, states clearly that its product contains nicotine and does not allow under 18s, and is set to private. The company said it “used these platforms to interact with users when they ask questions or request information and to communicate factual information about Vype that adults vapers and smokers” wanted.
Unconvinced by BAT’s response, Ash chief executive Deborah Arnott, said: “The law has always been clear that any advertising of e-cigarettes online is not permitted.
“BAT’s defence that all they were doing was providing ‘information’ on social media not promoting their products has been blown out of the water.
“The ASA ruling leaves no doubt that BAT’s social media tactics for Vype were both irresponsible and unlawful and must never be repeated.”
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ASA has told the four companies that ads promoting nicotine-containing e-cigarettes “should not be made from Instagram in future,” unless they took measures to ensure that these ads could not be viewed by under-18s and the people featured were 25 or over.
AMA vape said it has removed the post and reviewed its other social media content, while Global Vaping Group accepted that its post had been “beyond purely being factual”.
The company also admitted it was unable to verify the age of a woman shown vaping. Attitude Vapes has not responded to the ASA’s inquiries and has been instructed it must do so in the future.
The ruling comes as new research, published in Respiratory Research, suggests that vaping can lead to an increased potential for lung bacteria to cause harm and increase inflammation.
Vaping is frequently touted as a safer alternative to smoking, however, there is limited evidence to support this claim and there are major concerns around its safety.