The IBVTA’s advertorials were factual, not promotional, and did not reference specific brands or products.
Last September, the Independent British Vape Trade Association (IBVTA) launched a six-month national campaign aimed at dispelling some of the myths and misinformation surrounding vaping. As part of the initiative, the initiative launched some sponsored advertorials referring to scientific findings. These were published in local newspapers, and included a link to the campaign webpage on the IBVTA website.

The infographic advert, which appeared in the East Lothian Courier on October 26, was intended to address the public confusion about vaping. It carried the headline, “Let’s clear the smoke of confusion: Vaping saves smokers’ lives,” and argued that negative headlines had eroded the public’s understanding of vaping’s benefits, especially among smokers. The advert explained that single-use vapes are crucial for those trying to quit smoking because of their simplicity, citing findings indicating that 53% of regular smokers and 61% of recent quitters use these devices. The advertorial also asserted that flavoured vaping products are important for achieving Scotland’s smoke-free goals.

The following February, the ASA decided to investigate whether the advertorial, as it appeared in the Scottish newspaper, breached advertising rules by promoting unlicensed, nicotine-containing e-cigarettes and their components in a newspaper. Sure enough, the investigation concluded that while the advertorial did not refer to any specific vape brand or product, it indirectly promoted nicotine-containing e-cigarettes, which is not permitted in non-licensed media. To this effect, the authority determined that the advertorial breached its code of advertising and banned it.

The NHS could save over £500 million if most smokers switched to vapes

In response, the IBVTA argued that the advertorial was providing factual information about vaping and presenting findings from research about consumer views on vaping. It stated that the advertorial was published during a time of “public misunderstanding of vaping harms,” noting that some believed vaping was more harmful than smoking.

The ASA acknowledged that the advertorial was published in response to the Scottish Government’s proposal to ban the sale of disposable vapes by 2025. Despite this context, the ASA maintained that the advertorial’s indirect promotion of vapes violated advertising rules.

Addressing the advertorial ban on its website, the IBVTA reiterated that it supports the UK government’s smokefree strategy, aiming for a smokefree UK by 2030 (Scotland by 2034), which is vital for public health. The group referred to the research indicating that if half of England’s adult smokers switched to vapes, the NHS could save over £500 million in health costs annually.

Most respondents in a recent study believed vapes are equally or more harmful than cigarettes

The IBVTA went on to discuss how skewed public perceptions of vaping are. A survey from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) revealed that 40% of people believe vaping is as harmful, if not more so, than smoking, a 60% increase over three years. A separate study of 28,393 adult smokers by Dr. Sarah Jackson at University College London, published in February 2023, found that 57% of respondents believed e-cigarettes to be equally (33.7%) or more (23.3%) harmful than traditional cigarettes. These findings contradict the government’s data, which indicates that vaping is considerably safer than smoking.

Moreover, an IBVTA-commissioned survey of 6,000 smokers and ex-smokers across the UK found that 37% of ex-smokers and 46% of regular smokers have tried vaping to quit smoking. In fact, the government’s own ‘Swap to Stop’ initiative aims to help a million smokers quit by providing them with vapes. Additionally, smoking rates among 18-year-olds have dropped from 24.5% in 2021 to 19.5% in 2022, a 20% decrease in one year, all thanks to vaping.

This lack knowledge among the public and widespread misinformation and confusion about vaping, were what ultimately gave birth to the now banned campaign. The IBVTA considered its advertorials to be factual and not promotional, emphasizing that they did not reference specific brands or products.

Addressing misinformation should be encouraged not banned

The IBVTA is naturally disappointed by the ASA’s decision, arguing that addressing misinformation in the media is critical, especially when organizations act with integrity and responsibility. However, added the association, despite this unfortunate event, it remains committed to promoting a responsible vaping sector and supporting the UK’s smoke-free journey.

“The IBVTA considered the advertorial to be factual, not promotional, in nature. It did not reference a specific brand or vaping product, and it presented information that could be readily substantiated. Towards the end of the advertorial we included the line “Always buy from reputable retailers”, as a reminder to buy from a reputable retailer, rather than retailers who were trading illicit products, or were otherwise breaking the law.”

Scottish Government Says Further Vape Advert Restrictions Are Required

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