Cigarette advertising has been banned on Britain’s TV screens for 50 years, but the sight of people puffing away in the commercial break may be about to make a shock comeback. Electronic cigarettes – which deliver a dose of nicotine and even mimic smoke fumes, but without burning tobacco – are enjoying rapidly increasing sales, and London’s advertising agencies can sense an exciting new opportunity. Traditional cigarette maker British American Tobacco – the world’s second-biggest producer and best known for its Dunhill, Pall Mall and Lucky Strike brands – has begun a search for a London agency to launch an e-cigarette called Vype.
A spokesman for BAT said: ‘As part of our harm-reduction approach we have made no secret of the fact that we are looking at a number of different product opportunities, including e-cigarettes.
‘We have also made no secret of the fact the UK is one of the markets we believe may have potential for such a product.’
BAT’s chief financial officer, Nicandro Durante, has said tobacco alternatives could account for as much as 40 per cent of its revenues within 20 years. In December, the company bought the Manchester-based e-cigarette maker CN Creative, which will produce Vype.The e-cigarette market is worth £1.3?billion globally, with the US and Britain two of the fastest-growing countries. But the expected boom in advertising will not be without controversy.
The products have already prompted alarm, with critics warning they will lead children to try the real thing. And although e-cigarettes do not involve inhaling carcinogenic smoke, they do contain nicotine, which is highly addictive. In 2012 the Advertising Standards Authority ruled against one internet advert that claimed: ‘You can enjoy them safely anywhere you want.’ It ruled there was no clear evidence that e-cigarettes were without risk. Martin Dockrell, director of research and policy at the charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) said: ‘Our very strong view is that this needs to be regulated properly. It is not clear how much nicotine they deliver. There are no special regulations covering their marketing at the moment.
‘So far the companies are quite small, but there are concerns about some of the bigger companies expressing interest, and they have much bigger resources and much bigger marketing budgets.’
E-Lites, which is based in the Midlands, aired commercials on ITV and Sky in January. It said its 30-second adverts, which feature Waterloo Road actor Mark Benton but do not show the product, will return to British television on World No Tobacco Day this Friday. TV adverts cannot promote smoking or the use of tobacco products or share the name with a tobacco product. Adverts that might be of interest to children must not refer to tobacco or smoking.
But there are no rules specifically to stop companies from advertising e-cigarettes, and the ASA’s Broadcast Advertising Code does not prohibit adverts from depicting cigarettes, only tobacco products from being promoted. There are no age restrictions on the sales of e-cigarettes. But the ASA said that rules against even indirect promotion of smoking or a tobacco brand could limit e-cigarette advertising. ‘It is our view that the advertising of e-cigarettes on TV is likely to be severely restricted,’ it said. It added: ‘Clearcast, the body that vets TV advertising before broadcast, has approved few ads in this category.
‘The whole issue is complicated. There are discussions in Government about whether e-cigarettes that contain nicotine should be licensed as medicines. We are waiting for the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency to come to a conclusion.’
If it decides to license e-cigarettes then makers will have to apply for authorisation to advertise.
In the meantime, e-cigarettes firms want to put fashionable and attractive people puffing away back on our TV screens and billboards. E-Lites has its own powerboat and Formula?4 motor racing teams. Cara Kilbey of The Only Way Is Essex, TV presenter Lizzie Cundy, Brooke Kinsella of EastEnders and pop singer Lemar are among celebrities pictured with E-Lites on its Facebook page.
Meanwhile another e-cigarette maker, Gamucci, says it plans to launch a TV ad, which is currently being reviewed by Clearcast, later this year.
Umer Sheikh, co-founder of Gamucci, said: ‘There will be more creative advertising from e-cigarette companies because the product shares certain characteristics with cigarettes and you cannot be seen to promote smoking.
‘In the US, e-cigarette companies can advertise very freely, and show vapour being inhaled and blown out.
‘We think the ASA should look at the rules and understand that this is the 21st Century and this is not a tobacco product.’