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Advertiser: Fontem Ventures BV (Imperial Tobacco John Player)
ASAI Code 7th Edition: 2.4(c), 17.8, 17.9, 17.10, 17.11
An outdoor advertising campaign by Fontem Ventures B.V., an e-vapour technology company and producers of the e-cigarette brand myblu, featured in various outdoor locations and on transport exteriors.
The advertising featured shadow like adult animation style images. All of the images were wearing glasses and held a vaping pen between their index finger and thumb. In the bottom right hand corner of each poster there was an image of a ‘Blu’ vaping pen accompanied by two vaping cartridges alongside the website address “BLU.COM”.
There were two different straplines used. The first which was accompanied by two-character images read:
“we blu, do you?
The second strapline which was accompanied by a single character image read:
“I blu, do you?”
All advertising contained the same additional text:
“NEW MYBLU. HANDY AND EASY VAPING FOR YOU”.
Smaller text at the bottom of each advertisement read:
“Copyright Fontem Ventures 2019. This product contains nicotine which is a highly addictive substance 18+ only. Not a smoking cessation product.”
Seven complaints were received in relation to the complaint.
Complaint issue 1.
Two complainants considered that the advertising encouraged non-vapers and non-nicotine users to start using the product.
Complaint issue 2
Three complainants considered that the advertising was targeting children and teenagers. The complainants referred to the stylised visuals with one complainant considering that the advertising presented vaping as fashionable and cool.
Complaint issue 3
Three complainants considered that the product category should not be permitted to advertise as they said it had not been proven to do no damage.
The advertisers said that they did not consider their advertising had breached the requirements of the Code. They said they were committed to responsible advertising and as members of Vape Business Ireland and signatories of the VBI Code of Conduct, they were committed to ensuring that their vaping products were only marketed to adult smokers, vapers and consumers of other nicotine products.
Complaint Issue 1
The advertisers said that the complaints appeared to different degrees to confuse and conflate vaping products with tobacco. They said that vaping products such as myblu did not contain tobacco and were not subject to the same regulatory regime as tobacco-containing products. In particular, the advertising of vaping products was not generally prohibited in Ireland (1). They said the Department of Health Guidance made it clear that advertising of vaping products on “outdoor posters, posters on sides of buses, trains etc. was permitted (2).
The advertisers said that there was a large and growing body of evidence, most notably from the UK by a series of UK Government commissioned evidence reviews prepared by leading independent tobacco control experts which indicated vaping was a safer alternative to smoking and 95% less harmful than smoking, with only a fraction of the risks. They said that evidence also demonstrated that vaping assisted people in helping to quit smoking more so than nicotine replacement therapy and should be a recommended option made available to all smokers (3).
The advertisers reiterated that they were committed to advertising their products responsibly and believed that vaping had the potential to play a significant role in reducing smoking prevalence in Ireland by 2025. They said that the Healthy Ireland Survey (4), which was funded by the Department of Health and published in October 2018, found that 41% of people who had successfully given up smoking over the previous 12 months had done so using e-cigarettes, which accounted for 70% of those who had been successfully assisted in quitting. They said that this survey also found that the prevalence of e-cigarette usage among non-smokers in Ireland was less than 1%.
They said that their disclaimer that the product was “not a smoking cessation product” had been used to ensure that they were not making any medicinal claims. They said that this disclaimer did not undermine the fact that the advertisements were aimed at existing smokers.
Complaint Issue 2
The advertisers said that they did not consider that their advertising appealed to young people. They said that the characters depicted had been designed to appeal to an older audience and that the Art Deco influenced illustrative style was not in any way youth orientated. They said the design was minimalistic and sophisticated, the clothes had been specifically selected to appear older and more upmarket than high street fashion or youth “street culture”. They also considered that the characters’ posture and behaviour was neither adolescent nor juvenile and that every effort had been made to ensure that the characters looked over 25.
They said that they had engaged with the ASAI’s copy advice service in advance of publication and had taken on board commentary in relation to the imagery to ensure the representation of people was clearly over 25.
In relation to the choice of media and the requirements of the Code at 17.11 (that no medium should be used to advertise e-cigarettes if more than 25% of its audience is under 18 years of age), the advertisers said that advertisements on billboards, busses or otherwise to the public at large could not be considered to contravene provision 17.11in the absence of some unusual feature - a billboard directly opposite a school, for instance- and there was no such unusual feature present in respect of their advertisements. They said that they had specifically briefed their media contractors that advertisement locations were to be targeted at ages 18-34.
Complaint Issue 3
The advertisers said that the complainants appeared to confuse and conflate vaping products and tobacco products. Vaping products such as myblu do not contain tobacco and are not subject to the same regulatory regime as tobacco-containing products. In particular, the advertisement of vaping products is not generally prohibited in Ireland. The Department of Health guidance makes clear, for instance, the advertising of vaping products on "outdoor posters, posters on sides of buses, trains etc" is permitted.
They said that there were good reasons for the different treatment of vaping products and tobacco containing products. In particular, there was a large and growing body of evidence, most notably from the UK, as demonstrated by a series of UK Government commissioned evidence reviews prepared by leading independent tobacco control experts, indicating that vaping is a safer (95% less harmful) alternative to smoking, with only a small fraction of the risks, provides more effective assistance in helping people quit smoking than nicotine replacement therapy, and should be a recommended option available to all smokers. Public health agencies in the UK, US, Canada and New Zealand have endorsed vaping as an aid to quit smoking .
They said that they were committed to responsible advertising of vaping and they believed that it had the potential to play a significant part in reducing smoking prevalence in Ireland and in helping the Government towards a Tobacco Free Ireland by 2025. The Healthy Ireland Survey, funded by the Department of Health and published in October 2018, for instance, found that 41% of people who successfully quit smoking over the previous twelve months had done so using e-cigarettes, accounting for 70% of successful assisted quitting. That survey also found that the prevalence of e-cigarette usage among non-smokers in Ireland was less than 1%. Similarly, prevalence of regular vaping amongst people who had never smoked in the UK has been reported at 0.2% for 11-18-year olds and 0.4%-0.8% for adults.
In conclusion, the advertisers said that they were mindful of their responsibilities in advertising their vaping brand to adult smokers and vapers and reiterated once again that the bulk of the complaints appeared to come down to confusion between vaping and smoking amongst members of the public.
(1) Advertising of electronic cigarettes is regulated by Regulation 31 of the European Union (Manufacture, Presentation and Sale of Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 (as amended).
(2) Department of Health Guidance on “Commercial communications restrictions for e-cigarettes and refill containers”,
2016/TACU/11 v2 last updated 28th June 2017.
The Complaints Committee considered the details of the complaints and the advertisers’ response.
Complaint Issue 1 - Upheld
The Complaints Committee noted the Code requirement that marketing communications should not encourage non-smokers or non-nicotine-users to use e-cigarettes. The Committee did not consider that the inclusion of the statement that the product was not a smoking cessation device meant that the advertising was directed at non-users
They did however consider that the phrases ‘I blu, do you?” and “We blu, do you?” in the absence of an indication that the advertising was only directed at existing e-cigarette users, could be understood as an invitation to both existing and non-users to try the product. The Committee considered that the advertising had encouraged non-smokers and/or non-nicotine users to use e-cigarettes.
In the circumstances, the Committee considered the advertising to be in breach of 17.8 of the Code.
Complaint Issue 2 – Not Upheld
The Committee noted the Art Deco stylised imagery used in the advertising. They did not consider the representation of the people in the advertising was of people aged under 25.
In assessing whether the choice of media was appropriate, the Committee noted that locations near schools had been avoided.
In the circumstances, the Committee did not consider that the advertising had targeted children and therefore there was no breach of the Code on the basis suggested by the complainants.
Complaint Issue 3 – Not Upheld
The Committee noted that under legislation, advertising for e-cigarettes was permitted in outdoor media. They also noted while the complainants had expressed concerns about product safety, the advertising had made no claims in relation to safety. In the circumstances the Committee concluded that there was no breach of the Code on the basis suggested by the complainants.
The advertising must not be used again in its current format.