By Matt Wilson – media and public affairs manager at the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)/Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP).
The ASA’s media and public affairs manager explains why comms professionals must ensure that vaping isn’t advertised to under-18s.
The ASA is responsible for ensuring UK ads across media are ‘legal, decent, honest and truthful’. And the rules, the Advertising Codes, place a particular emphasis on protecting young people. A key part of that and a current focus of the work is around tackling ads for vaping products appearing on social media.
Why should this matter to PR professionals?
One of the primary concerns is vaping brands partnering with influencers in order to promote vaping products on social media and, by extension, the risk of vapes being advertised to an under-18 audience. There’s a two-fold problem here. One, the rules prohibit vaping ads from being targeted at or likely to appeal to children. Two, and crucially, it is illegal for nicotine-containing vapes that are not licensed as medicines to be advertised in most online media including social media.
So, it’s an open and shut case. Influencer vaping ads simply shouldn’t be appearing.
CIPR’s Influencer Marketing Panel has produced several important guides for PR professionals on the dos and don’ts of partnering with influencers. Alongside this, a ‘health warning’ to any PR professional or agency who may have influencer clients, who may already work with or who is approached by vaping brands seeking PR support. Be aware of the advertising rules and law surrounding the promotion of these products. And, in clear and absolute terms, do not support activity that risks landing you in hot water with the regulator and that could bring PR practitioners into disrepute.
The ASA is taking action to reduce – as far as is practically possible – under-18 exposure to non-compliant vape ads. Two recent published rulings, against HQD Tech UK and Green Fun Alliance Ltd t/a Elf Bar, had influencer ads on TikTok removed. they’ve stepped up monitoring of such influencer ads; got other formal investigations underway on the back of that. Exploring using in-house AI capability to help. Stepping up work with TikTok and other platforms to prevent such ads appearing in the first place, and to quickly take down any that do. And working closely with other regulators and enforcement bodies.
Tackling the problem at source
Advertising is, of course, only one part of the bigger problem of the products themselves – which worryingly includeillegal vapes with high nickel, chromium and lead content – and their availability to under-18s. Tackling that problem at source – the products and their packaging, their import into the country, their sale to under-18s – calls for a coordinated effort as well as ensuring enforcement bodies have sufficient resources and legal certainty to take tough enforcement action.
ASA role is to ensure that vaping ads are responsible and only appear where they can legally be advertised. Currently, they are sometimes being placed in social media and targeted at young people. It’s a top priority for them to stamp that out. One vaping ad on these channels is one too many.
PR professionals can also play their part in ensuring advertising isn’t a factor in under-18s vaping. It’s simple. Don’t partner with influencers and brands who want to use social media or other online channels to promote vaping products. And if you are approached on these lines, perhaps steer the parties involved to the ASA and point out the rules that are in place.
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