British American Tobacco has been ordered to stop promoting e-cigarettes on public Instagram pages after the UK advertising watchdog found the group’s posts “clearly went beyond” permitted marketing of vaping products.
The ruling, published on Wednesday by the Advertising Standards Authority, said posts featuring singer Lily Allen and fashion brand House of Holland contravened a 2016 ban on marketing nicotine-containing e-cigarettes online or in print media.
Brands are only permitted to publish factual information on vaping devices, and only on their own websites or where customers have to seek out the information. The ASA found that the posts went beyond factual claims.
Tobacco companies have been steadily increasing development and marketing of so-called “reduced risk” products as cigarette volumes decline in big markets such as the US and Europe.
BAT has invested more than £3bn in its tobacco alternatives, from which it is targeting revenues of £5bn by 2023.
But a recent backlash against vaping, particularly in the US where high rates of teen uptake and a series of deaths related to particular kinds of e-cigarettes have been reported, has prompted regulators to consider tightening regulations.
The ASA investigated seven Instagram posts promoting BAT’s Vype e-cigarette that were brought to the watchdog’s attention by anti-tobacco campaigners who accused the company of targeting under-18s.
“This is a major step forward in stopping the tobacco industry from promoting its new addictive products to children and teenagers,” said Professor Anna Gilmore, director of the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath. “But given that cigarette sales are falling and tobacco companies are desperate to recruit young people into using these new products, ongoing vigilance is essential.
In May more than 100 campaign groups sent an open letter to the chief executives of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat calling for “swift action to curb the aggressive advertising of all tobacco products and e-cigarettes on your platforms”.
BAT said that as the technology that sits behind social media platforms improved, tobacco companies would be better able to target their marketing at an adult audience. In the meantime, it said that it would remove the seven posts and make its Vype brand page private.
The ASA found that the Vype Instagram posts did not specifically target young people.
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