On Friday, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) published the results of their consultation into e-cigarette adverts and announced that “the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP and BCAP) have amended the ad rules so that health claims are no longer banned from ads for e-cigarettes.”.
The NNA, naturally, fully welcomes the announcement and we are pleased that common sense has prevailed in this policy area. It has long been frustrating for both consumers and the vaping industry that regulations have prevented the truth being told about the reduced risk products in relation to combustible tobacco.
The ASA exists to ensure that adverts are truthful and do not mislead the public and – while advertising prior to this decision was not telling untruths – accurate and fully truthful information was denied to smokers who have contemplated switching to vaping instead. This development could have a positive impact on decisions smokers make going forward so we congratulate the committees involved for their wisdom in approving messages which have the potential to benefit the public’s health.
As the graphic above shows, before Friday’s decision Public Health England and other public health bodies could declare that e-cigarettes, while not risk-free, are vastly safer than cigarettes, but e-cigarette vendors were prohibited from saying the same thing to their customers in advertising, no matter that it is 100% true.
The ASA has now quite rightly corrected this anomaly.
The consultation responses showed that there were a few health groups opposed to allowing health claims in advertising, but their reasoning was not only weak, but tended to lend weight to the proposal. For example, many prefixed their objections with “The evidence so far shows e-cigarettes are far safer than smoking and can help smokers to stop. However …” or “Current evidence suggests e-cigarettes are less harmful than tobacco cigarettes but …” – but what are these statements if not health claims?
A situation whereby public health organisations can make these claims but those marketing the products are not was clearly absurd, especially since even the most virulent detractors of e-cigarettes cannot challenge the fact that vaping is far safer than smoking.
In recent years, public perception of the benefits of vaping has stalled due to the misguided actions of a small minority of activists who are ideologically opposed to safer alternatives and who have shamefully fomented doubt as to the relative safety of e-cigarettes and other alternative nicotine products. Friday’s decision by the ASA committees, therefore, is timely and can only facilitate a better understanding of e-cigarettes and a greater clarity amongst smokers as to the benefits they could derive from switching.
The government’s Science and Technology Committee recommended liberalising advertising rules to allow health claims in August so we are pleased to see the ASA act to remove the censorship of truth in e-cigarette advertising.
The NNA, once again, is also proud that the UK is leading the way globally on tobacco harm reduction and this move by the ASA just emphasises that. The Tobacco Control Plan committed to “backing evidence-based innovations to support quitting” so permitting truth in e-cigarette advertising is not only the right thing to do, it is also a great example of joined-up thinking between the government and its public sector agencies. As understanding of safer nicotine systems improves, we hope to see other state-funded organisations take a similar path to eradicate the confusion surrounding reduced risk products in the future.