UK Authorities Ban British American Tobacco from Promoting E-cigarettes on Instagram

UK Authorities Ban British American Tobacco from Promoting E-cigarettes on Instagram

Following Complaints to UK advertising authority by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and Stopping Tobacco Organizations & Products (STOP)

Washington, D.C. – Following complaints by leading health organizations, the United Kingdom’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled that British American Tobacco (BAT) must stop using any public Instagram account to promote e-cigarettes in the U.K., which would include BAT’s use of influencer marketing to advertise e-cigarettes. The ASA also ordered BAT to remove all Instagram advertisements for Vype – BAT’s e-cigarette – that were under investigation.

U.K. regulations clearly prohibit online advertising of e-cigarettes, but allow a manufacturer to provide factual product information such as the name, content and price of the product on its own websites. The ASA ruling has clarified that social media accounts, like @GoVype run by BAT, are not analogous to a website, and therefore, neither factual nor promotional content for e-cigarettes is permitted. In addition to U.K. regulations, the online advertising of e-cigarettes is banned in all countries in the European Union.

“The ASA’s ruling is a huge step forward in preventing tobacco companies from using social media to advertise to young people in the U.K. and around the world,” said Mark Hurley, director of international communications at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “While the ASA ruling is great news, urgent policy change is needed from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to prevent BAT and other tobacco companies from using social media to advertise their harmful products to young people around the world.”

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH (U.K.) said, “The law has always been clear that any advertising of e-cigarettes online is not permitted. BAT’s defense that all they were doing was providing ‘information’ on social media not promoting their products, has been blown out of the water. The ASA ruling leaves no doubt that BAT’s social media tactics for Vype were both irresponsible and unlawful and must never be repeated.”

BAT promotes Vype e-cigarettes through accounts on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Posts to the accounts feature celebrities and social media influencers using Vype and other content designed to appeal to young people by featuring fashion, travel, popular films and celebrity endorsements. According to the complaints, posts are also designed to reach the widest possible audience by using popular hashtags like #throwbackthursday or #style.

Outside the U.K., BAT continues to engage in a global social media campaign to promote Vype e-cigarettes on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Despite internal marketing policies stating that the company will not use models or influencers who are, or appear to be under 25, BAT has paid influencers under 25 to promote Vype on social media in Colombia, Guatemala, Italy, Mexico and the U.K. BAT currently uses social media to promote Vype in more than a dozen countries including France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Canada, Ireland and Colombia. The global ad campaign uses hashtags like #teretoaprobarlo (#idareyoutotryit) and captions like “feeling Vype AF” to promote Vype in thousands of posts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

“This is a major step forward in stopping the tobacco industry from promoting its new addictive products to children and teenagers. But given that cigarette sales are falling and tobacco companies are desperate to recruit young people into using these new products, ongoing vigilance is essential,” said Professor Anna Gilmore, director of the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, the research partner in Stopping Tobacco Organizations & Products (STOP), a global tobacco industry watchdog.

In May, Tobacco-Free Kids and more than 125 organizations from 48 countries called on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat to immediately prohibit influencer marketing of tobacco and e-cigarettes on their platforms. Tobacco companies like BAT use influencer marketing to get around existing tobacco advertising bans on social media, but to date, the social media companies have not changed their polices on influencer marketing of tobacco.

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