ASA ruling on Imperial Tobacco
When can e-cigarette advertisers encourage “new” users of their products?The key takeaway
E-cigarette advertisers should make clear that ads are for the attention of existing smokers or nicotine-users and ensure that this message is also clearly depicted in associated headline claims or dialogue.
Imperial Tobacco Ltd t/a Blu advertised its Blu e-cigarettes using three outdoor posters:
- a drawn female character wearing sunglasses and holding an e-cigarette with the headline “I blu do you?” alongside the claim “NEW MYBLU. HANDY AND EASY VAPING”
- drawn female and male characters wearing sunglasses, each holding an e-cigarette with the headline “you blu too? who knew?” alongside the claim “NEW MYBLU. HANDY AND EASY VAPING”
- a drawn female character wearing sunglasses holding an e-cigarette with the headline “I’m new to blu” alongside the claim “NEW MYBLU. HANDY AND EASY VAPING”
Allen Carr Easyway, a stop-smoking initiative, and 12 members of the public challenged the adverts on the basis that they encouraged non-smokers and non-nicotine users to use e-cigarettes. In response, Blu took the position that the claim “For Existing Adult Smokers & Vapers Only”, which was displayed prominently and in large, dark text (in contrast to the light blue background), clarified that the ads were only targeted at existing smokers and vapers.
The ASA investigated the complaints under Rule 22.8 of the Cap Code, namely that “marketing communications must not encourage non-smokers or non-nicotine-users to use e-cigarettes”. The ASA commented that, although the “For Existing Adult Smokers & Vapers Only” wording on its own was unlikely to deter a non-smoker or non-nicotine user from being responsive to the ads, the headline taglines did not encourage non-smokers to use e-cigarettes. The ASA found that the headlines in posters 1 and 2 did not actively suggest that non-smokers should take up e-cigarettes and, in particular, the headline in poster 3 suggested that the character was a new user of that particular Blu product as opposed to being a new user of nicotine products in general. On this basis the complaint was not upheld.
Why is this important?
Although the complaint was not upheld in this case, the ASA’s decision serves as a reminder that e-cigarette advertisers must be careful not to suggest that any new customers depicted in their ads could be interpreted as being non-smokers that have taken up smoking or vaping as a result of the advertised product. Indeed, the ASA’s rationale in this complaint is reminiscent of the previously upheld 2014 Vape Nation complaint in which the ASA explained that ads which portray a person exchanging normal cigarettes for e-cigarettes might be acceptable, whereas ads which would lead consumers to understand that a non-smoker who had subsequently taken up e-cigarettes would not be acceptable.
Any practical tips?
Where possible, advertisers should both clearly state that e-cigarette ads are for the attention of existing smokers and nicotine-users only and ensure that this message is also clearly depicted in associated headline text or dialogue to avoid any ambiguity as to the target audience.