The clearance of e-cigarette advertising has been one of the biggest compliance challenges for Clearcast in recent years. When the products were first advertised the BCAP code did not contain any specific rules for us to check scripts against, so we cleared those first ads against the rules which prohibit tobacco advertising. This was very restrictive for e-cig advertisers and meant that they were often prohibited from showing their products because they were likely to make an association in the viewer’s mind with a tobacco product and therefore inadvertently promote tobacco products.
The publishing of the new BCAP code rules on e-cigs opened up the possibility of showing the products in use and speaking about them in less restricted terms, but the new rules reiterated that e-cig ads must not promote the use of tobacco products. So under these new regulations we approved our first ads showing the products in use. Complaints were made to the ASA about an ad for VIP E-cigarettes, which showed a seductive woman inhaling and exhaling vapour in close-up. The ASA upheld the complaint on the basis that it had created a ‘strong association with traditional tobacco smoking and presented it, as the central focus of the ads, in a sultry and glamourous way’.
In light of this ruling we advised another advertiser, Mirage, to amend their recently approved ad which also showed a couple vaping ‘as the central focus of the ads, in a sultry and glamorous way’ and was therefore in breach of the rules. We were satisfied that the changes made by Mirage brought the ad into line as they had removed all the shots of the couple inhaling and exhaling vapour, which was the feature highlighted by the ASA in the VIP ruling as causing an association with smoking.
Complaints on this updated Mirage ad were investigated by the ASA and this week they have been upheld on the basis that they ‘created a strong association with traditional tobacco and presented it as the central focus, in a sultry and glamorous, and therefore positive way.’ A familiar stance but this time the main concern for the ASA was the amount of heavy vapour featured in the ad, which they considered had the appearance of tobacco smoke.
So where are we now? Well given the two recent rulings we have a clearer idea about what the ASA do not want to see in e-cigarette ads. Our advice is not to make ads which focus mainly on people vaping or on the vapour itself and to avoid anything that may be construed as glamorising e-cigarettes, that may otherwise create a positive association with tobacco products and that may suggest that non-smokers or lapsed smokers should try the products. Some may argue that the inherent similarity between e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes makes it impossible to show the former without creating an association with the latter. However, given the BCAP code says you can show e-cigs we have to try to walk the fine line between ads that legitimately promote e-cigs and those that also indirectly promote tobacco products.
By Seb Lynch, Copy Development Manager