Electronic cigarettes: Children and young people


INSIGHT
Published
Mar 13th '24
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As with all age-restricted products, there are strict rules around the advertising of e-cigarettes (“vapes”, to protect children and young persons, both in terms of the content of ads and their placement.

 

The following guidance applies to marketing communications in permitted media or those not caught by the media prohibitions – some example cases included may pre-date the media prohibitions and are included for illustration only.

 

Don’t feature anyone who is, or seems to be, under 25

Ads which fall within the scope of the rules must not feature anyone playing a significant role or using an e-cigarette (“vaping”) if they are, or appear to be, under the age of 25.

 

A TikTok ad featuring George Baggs – a public figure from the television programme Gogglebox whom the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) understood was 19 at the time the ad was posted – was found in breach for this reason (HQD Tech UK, 10 May 2023). This was notwithstanding the fact that the ad appeared in a prohibited medium.

 

Advertisers are advised to ensure they are satisifed that any measures used to verify the ages of individuals featured in ads are sufficient. In 2023, the ASA acknowledged that an advertiser had taken steps to verify the ages of various models featured in the ad (Neafs UK Ltd, 22 March 2023); one of the models provided from a third-party photo stock was tagged as over the age of 29. However, identification documents showed that the individual would have been 24 years old at the time the ad was published. Additionally, the image of a different model was featured next to a testimonial that stated “…I can certainly say your product is soooooo great!!!”. The ASA considered that the language, punctuation and tone of that testimonial was more likely to be associated with a younger person. As such, the ad was found to be in breach.

 

Given that it can be difficult to establish whether someone ‘appears’ to be under the age of 25, marketers are strongly advised to avoid featuring anyone who is at risk of appearing under 25 either using an e-cigarette or in a significant role.

 

In December 2019, the ASA ruled that several ads breached rule 22.10 by featuring people who did not appear to be over the age of 25 including Instagram posts (notwithstanding the fact that the ads appeared in a prohibited medium) featuring images of someone vaping with the captions “Attitude is everything” (Attitude Vapes), “#repost @rae_eleanor loving her #mylo” (Global Vaping Group Ltd t/a Mylo Vape UK) and “SHOCK Spearmint! With @amiiegiffen” (Ama Vape Lab Ltd).

 

Don’t include content likely to be of particular appeal to under 18s

Ads for e-cigarettes and their components are also prohibited from featuring anything likely to be of particular appeal to people under the age of 18.

 

Marketers should avoid anything likely to reflect or be associated with youth culture, any characters likely to be of particular appeal to under 18s and anyone behaving in an adolescent or juvenile manner.

 

Ads featuring cartoon images of Santa, a gingerbread man and an elf were considered to have been of particular appeal to children, in breach of rule 22.9, due the combination of the fact that they were characters children would be familiar with and the style of the images being very ‘child-friendly’, rather than more suitable for an adult audience (Fischen Medical Ltd, 15 February 2017).

 

The ASA also ruled that several online ads for an e-cigarette brand were irresponsible, because they featured celebrities which the ASA considered were likely to be of particular appeal to children and presented models in a way they considered was reminiscent of young urban fashion. The ASA was also concerned that the ads depicted people who appeared to be under the age of 25 both in significant roles and using e-cigarettes (Hubbly Bubbly Ltd, 10 June 2015).

 

In contrast, the ASA considered that ads featuring multiple references to the fashion brand House of Holland (that produced clothes for adults and did not produce a range of clothes for children) and references to and images of Lilly Allen (a musician whose career began in the mid-2000s and was therefore likely to have gained popularity over a broad age range) were not in breach on this point (British American Tobacco UK Ltd, 18 December 2019). However, the ads were found to be in breach for appearing in prohibited media and containing content which went beyond the provision of factual information.

 

Target ads responsibly

Ads for e-cigarettes must be targeted responsibly; they must not be directed at under 18s through the selection of media or the context in which they appear and no medium should be used if more than 25% of its audience is under 18.

 

Many outdoor media owners apply a ‘100 metre rule’, meaning they will not place certain ads, for example those that are sexually suggestive, or those that promote age-restricted products such as alcohol, gambling or HFSS food product’s, within 100 metres of a school boundary.  While this is not an explicit requirement under the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code, the ASA has previously taken the application of the position into consideration when assessing whether an ad has been responsibly placed.  As such, marketers are advised to consider this approach when ensuring outdoor e-cigarette ads are not targeted at an audience which consists of more than 25% of under-16s.

 

The ASA considered two poster ads seen on buses (Vape Nation Ltd t/a 88Vape, 18 March 2020) which operated on commercial routes that served schools as part of that route and an ad displayed at a bus shelter on a similar type of route (British American Tobaccos UK Ltd t/a Vype). Whilst the buses would be likely to carry higher number of under 18s at certain points of the day, the ASA noted that they also served the wider community the rest of the time. With respect to the bus shelter, the ASA understood that of the three bus routes that serviced the bus stop, and whilst one was a service timed to coincide with school terms dates, it could still be used by all members of the public and so would not be used exclusively by children. Because it was unlikely that the overall audience of the ads was significantly skewed towards under-18s, the ads were not found in breach.

 

See also: Electronic cigarettes: Overview and Electronic Cigarettes: Media Prohibitions

 

Source: CAP

 

About CAP

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) is the sister organisation of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and is responsible for writing the Advertising Codes.

 

Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the ASA.

 

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