The UK Has Just Unleashed A Free-For-All On E-Cigarette Advertising

The UK has just announced new rules surrounding e-cigarette advertising that is likely to see e-cig brands flooding to TV screens in ever-increasing numbers.

The Committee of Advertising Practice, which writes the UK advertising codes, could have decided to treat e-cigs in the much the same way as it does tobacco: severe restrictions that limit cigarette companies from marketing pretty much anywhere.

But instead it is giving e-cigs its own new special product category and even loosening the rules to allow e-cig brands to show people using their products — or “vaping” — in TV ads for the first time.

In the UK, e-cig advertising has always been allowed, but they were only subject to general “medicines” rules covering misleading claims, harm, offence and social responsibility. From Friday (October 9) e-cig advertising will be subject to product-specific rules.

In summary, those rules include:

• Ads must not be likely to appeal particularly to people under 18, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture.

• People shown using e-cigarettes or playing a significant role must neither be, nor seem to be, under 25.

• Ads must not be directed at people under 18 through the selection of media or the context in which they appear.

• Ads must not encourage non-smokers or non-nicotine users to use e-cigarettes.

• Ads must make clear that the product is an e-cigarette and not a tobacco product.

• Ads cannot convey health benefits or claim they are “safer” or “healthier” than tobacco, unless the company obtains authorization for their product from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.

E-cig ads TV and radio will also be subject to scheduling restrictions to reduce the chance of children being tempted into vaping.

The UK advertising regulator, the Advertising Standards Authority, told Business Insider it recognises showing e-cigs in ads represents a “change” for viewers and may be uncomfortable for people, so that is why it has developed these “strict” new rules to ensure they are depicted in a responsible way.

But it’s likely health campaigners and charities, who gave their views in the original consultation into the new rules that opened in February, may not feel the rules go far enough. E-cig companies meanwhile, might be organising celebratory vaping parties as they plan their vapor-filled TV commercials.

Indeed, Fraser Cropper, CEO of UK-based e-cig company Totally Wicked told Business Insider he welcomed the update: “These new rules demonstrate that it is possible to develop robust yet proportionate regulation that will still allow the advertising and marketing of this transformational product.”

The advertising of e-cigs in the UK has exploded in recent months, with brands such as SKYCIG, VIP, BLU and Vapestick launching campaigns costing as much as $US32 million.

E-cig brands are making big bets on advertising now as earlier this year the European Union passed new rules that mean from 2016 e-cigs will be classed as “tobacco-related products.” That means they will be subject to the same advertising restrictions as cigarettes and will have to carry health warnings (although it is currently unclear exactly how e-cigs are damaging to health).

In the US, attorneys from 29 states sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration in August calling for tighter rules around advertising e-cigs and to regulate the products in the same light as tobacco. E-cig brands have been advertising on TV in the US since 2012.

The global e-cig industry is estimated to be worth $US2.9bn.

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