The Scottish government has launched a public consultation exercise for a new policy paper entitled “Tightening rules on advertising and promoting vaping products”. As the title suggests, the proposals seek to place unnecessary obstacles in front of raising awareness about vaping products in Scotland. The EU Tobacco Products Directive, which the UK ratified prior to Brexit, already stipulates bans on vaping adverts on TV, in newspapers and in magazines, but this new initiative from the Scottish government aims to treat vaping products the same as cigarettes by prohibiting in-store promotional displays as well as ads on billboards, bus stops and anywhere else currently permitted. The plans would also prohibit vape companies from sponsoring any event or activity and ban free or cut-price samples.
This threatens to make vape products effectively invisible and would mean Scotland having the most draconian advertising regulations for vaping products in Europe. The Scottish government claims to be committed to a policy of being smokefree by 2034 yet are now proposing making the most effective cessation devices in recent years hidden from smokers.
In short, these proposals from the Scottish government will protect the cigarette trade by making safer alternatives less visible, less accessible, and by raising doubts in many people’s minds as to their relative risk compared with smoking.
The NNA will be submitting a comprehensive response to this misguided set of proposals, but it is open to individuals too, so we encourage all to respond. Here is our guide on how to do so.
The closing date is 28th April. Be sure not to miss the deadline or your response will not be considered.
The online form is available at this link and will not take too long to submit. If you do have time, though, we would encourage you to make good use of the opportunity to fully explain why you chose your responses in the further comments box provided for every question.
The Health (Tobacco, Nicotine etc. and Care) (Scotland) Act 2016
Consultation on Regulating Domestic Advertising and Promotion of Nicotine Vapour Products in Scotland
Tobacco Control Team
St Andrews House, 3E Regent Road
The consultation consists of 10 questions after an initial declaration of whether the respondent has any direct or indirect links to the tobacco industry. We have provided a rough guide of the questions below with our thoughts on the issues involved:
Question 1: Do you agree that we should be seeking to limit use of these products as a cessation aid and restrict exposure to non-smokers?
The focus throughout the consultation is on vaping being treated “purely as a smoking cessation aid” with a view to “gradually quit[ting] completely”. Indeed, the Ministerial Foreword specifically states that “Vaping products should only be used as a tool to help people stop smoking tobacco. They are not a lifestyle accessory.”. This fundamentally misunderstands the appeal of vaping as an alternative to smoking and would render vaping products far less effective. While it is unwise for non-smokers to take up vaping, too heavy a focus on preventing them doing so would also deter smokers from switching. Furthermore, viewing vaping as just a different kind of nicotine replacement therapy takes away one of the most attractive features of vaping, which is that it enables smokers to continue enjoying nicotine but in a far less harmful way. Vaping also works for many people who did not intend to stop smoking but ended up doing so, known as accidental quitters. If vaping is marketed only as a smoking cessation device those people may never try vaping and would continue to smoke.
As with all the questions, a box is provided to explain why you chose yes, no, or don’t know as your answer. In this instance the NNA will be answering no due to the reasons we have given above.
Question 2: Do you agree with proposal to extend restrictions on advertising these products in the ways described above?
The consultation document prefaces this question by saying that the Scottish government is taking a precautionary approach due to “the limited evidence on the long-term health impact of vaping”. We would argue that making safer alternatives less visible to smokers is reckless rather than precautionary as it will mean fewer smokers being aware of vaping or, worse, more believing that vaping is as harmful as smoking. Vaping products have been available in the UK since 2007 with negligible evidence of any resulting harms. Restricting all marketing of the most popular aid to quitting combustible tobacco because of future harms that have not been seen in a decade and a half is a gross over-reaction. The NNA will be answering no to this question.
Question 3: Do you agree with proposal that in-store promotional displays should be banned?
Again, this would make vaping products less visible to smokers. The Royal College of Physicians has stated that e-cigarettes should be promoted “widely as substitute for smoking” so this proposal is counter-productive and would lead to fewer smokers switching. Vapers also need information as to which products are available in the marketplace to improve their experience and prevent relapse. The NNA will be answering no.
Question 4: Do you support the proposal to make brand-sharing an offence?
This measure seeks to “prohibit vaping products from either carrying another product’s brand on a device or packaging or have the branding of a vaping product on any other products”. This would mean vaping manufacturers could not produce branded items such as T-shirts, baseball caps or any other promotional item. This treats vaping exactly the same as cigarettes which can only persuade many people that they are equally harmful. The consultation document admits that this measure is just copied from regulations on combustible tobacco. It is important that a clear distinction is made between smoking and vaping so the NNA will be answering no to this question.
Question 5a: Do you support the proposal to make free distribution of vaping products an offence?
Question 5b: Do you support the proposal that nominal pricing of vaping products should be an offence?
Vaping products are new and competing with well-established incumbent products - cigarettes. Marketing and promotions are needed to highlight the products and to provide information on how they work and how to use them, especially for new users. Many vapers will have initially switched from smoking after sampling a vape product, redeeming a coupon or taking advantage of a cheap deal. This proposal would make these illegal. The consultation document says that “Restricting free distribution and nominal pricing would stop businesses giving away to the public any product or coupon where the purpose or effect is to promote a vaping product”. There is a specific exemption for the NHS and charities which means the Scottish government is aware that such promotions are useful for attracting smokers to vaping. It is therefore counterproductive to ban methods by which smokers may be tempted to start vaping instead. The underlying message this proposal seeks to send is that vaping is for health professionals to give out, not businesses. Much of the appeal of vaping is precisely because smokers do not view themselves as sick and needing treatment and many favour a vape shop over a clinic. It is irresponsible to take away options for smokers and vapers in an attempt to recast vaping as purely for cessation rather than pleasurable too. The question comes in parts a and b, but it’s a no from the NNA to both of them.
Question 6: Do you support the proposal to make sponsorship agreements in respect of vaping products an offence?
There may be certain activities where it may be unwise to apply sponsorship from vaping manufacturers, but by no means all. Under the guise of protecting children and non-smokers, this proposal states that “Vape products should not be associated with clubs, events, activities, individuals or groups”. Again, the consultation document draws parallels with the tobacco industry in an attempt to demonise businesses which are helping smokers to quit. There are many events and activities where vaping sponsorship would be perfectly acceptable. We will be answering no to this question too.
Question 7: Do you support the proposal to introduce exemptions to allow advertising at trade-only events?
It is essential for any business to advertise within the trade in order for products to improve over time, so the NNA will be answering yes to this question. However, it is worth noting that this exemption does not include public days at Vape Shows and Expos.
Question 8a: Do you support the proposal that fines and penalties should mirror those already in place for tobacco products?
Question 8b: Do you support the proposal that defences should be as laid out as above?
Question 8c: Do you support the proposal that officers of local authorities should be responsible for enforcement?
Question 8 relates to punishments for contravening the new advertising restrictions. Question 8a specifically states that the proposals intend to mirror those applied to cigarettes. Numerous health bodies have advised that the distinction between vaping and smoking should be made clear, yet the Scottish government wishes to treat both products the same throughout these proposals. On the basis that we disagree with the advertising restrictions being proposed in this consultation, we would also disagree that business should be fined for attempting to help smokers to quit so the NNA will be answering no.
Question 9a: Please indicate the impact the proposed policy would have on individuals.
Question 9b: Please indicate your view on the impact of the proposed policy on people living with socio-economic disadvantage?
Question 9c: Please identify communities or groups who may be impacted by these proposals
Question 9 attempts to assess the impact these new regulations would have on the public. It is clear that if advertising is prohibited fewer smokers will be attracted to switch to safer products. Smoking is far more prevalent in lower socio-economic communities and taking away information will only lead to fewer of those smokers quitting by way of vaping. The proposal would also have a significant impact in convincing large swathes of the public that vaping is as harmful as smoking. We can only see negative consequences arising from the proposals, so the NNA will be choosing “negative impact” from the choices provided.
Question 10: Further comments
This question is an invitation to add your comments on the proposals in general. If you are a vaper, take this opportunity to tell your own story and how restrictions on advertising may have prevented you from switching to vaping in the first place. You may wish to point out that Scotland’s goal of being smokefree by 2034 will be threatened by these measures by hiding vaping products from adult smokers who may benefit from being made aware of them via advertising channels. You may also wish to comment on any aspects of the evidence provided in the consultation document which you find questionable. Much of the narrative seeks to present vaping as a harmful activity by cherry-picking sources and over-emphasising the threat of children taking up the products despite all surveys to date concluding that youth use of vaping products in the UK is very rare in those who were not former smokers. You could emphasise that the allure of vaping to very many is precisely that it is not considered as solely a smoking cessation product, but as an alternative way of consuming nicotine which is orders of magnitude safer than smoking. Or you may wish to comment on the potentially damaging consequences to the public perception of reduced risk products by treating vaping in the same way as smoking.
We hope you will take the opportunity to respond to this consultation as the tone and content of the proposals are sinister and can only result in less favourable outcomes than the status quo. If you choose to respond, make your case clearly and firmly but please remember to be polite and constructive.