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Complaint against e-cigarette poster on grounds of targeting is dismissed by ASA - BAT

Published on 07 November 2019

What factors will be taken into account by the ASA when it considers targeting complaints relating to the advertising of age-restricted products?

The key takeaway

In reaching its decision, the ASA took a broad range of factors into account, which indicates the practical approach the ASA may take when evaluating similar complaints.

The background

British American Tobacco UK (BAT) installed an ad for Vype e-cigarettes at a bus stop. A complaint was raised in relation to the location of the ad. Allegedly, because of the ad’s location, more than 25% of the advert’s audience comprised of people under the age of 18. 

BAT responded to the complaint by stating the following:

  • the ad’s location formed part of a special “ad package” which was for age-restricted products. As such, the location had been deemed appropriate for the placing of ads relating to products such as alcohol and e-cigarettes
  • one of the criteria for being deemed an appropriate location under the ad package was that it must be at least 100m away from a school so that under-18s were not inadvertently targeted (and the bus stop was indeed more than 100m from any schools)
  • the bus stop served three routes, covering significant distances over a wide variety of sites and none of these specifically served one school/college
  • estimated footfall data related to the ad site showed that not more than 25% of the footfall related to under-18s.
The ASA’s decision

After considering each of the factors raised by BAT, the ASA did not uphold the complaint. Based on the factual assertions made by BAT, the ASA found it unlikely that underage people made up more than 25% of the ad’s audience. Moreover, the ASA stated that it believed that BAT had taken “reasonable steps” to ensure that the ad’s audience was not made up of more than 25% under-18s. 

Why is this important?


This decision acts as a helpful “reference-marker” for businesses which advertise age-restricted products (especially on billboards or by posters, etc). Businesses may take inspiration from BAT’s safeguards to lower the risk of any adverse ASA rulings.

Any practical tips?

If you are undertaking an offline advertising campaign such as posters and billboards, take great care in choosing the location of your ads. To lower the risk of an adverse ASA ruling, choose a location which is more than 100m away from any school/college. Also, consider any other practical factors which may affect the demographic of your ad’s audience. Such factors may not be obvious. For example, is the ad on a bus route which serves mostly school children? It may also be helpful to show that the location you have chosen has already been deemed suitable for ads for age-restricted products.