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 Advertising Standards Authority.

Section 22 of the CAP Code concerns the regulation of marketing communications for electronic cigarettes. For the purposes of this section, an “electronic cigarette” is any product intended for inhalation of vapour via a mouth piece (‘vaping’), or any component of that product including, but not limited to, cartridges, tanks or e-liquids. The rules apply to any ad for e-cigarettes or related products, including e-shisha and e-hookah products, regardless of whether they contain nicotine.

Marketers are advised to read the rules in Section 22 in full, which include a number of content requirements and prohibitions. 

Under rule 22.12, nicotine-containing products and their components are prohibited from being advertised in certain media, unless they are licensed as medicines - see our guidance on Electronic Cigarettes: Media Prohibitions.  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 purposes only.

Ensure your ads are socially responsible

Ads must be socially responsible (rule 22.1) and should not encourage non-smokers or non-nicotine users to use e-cigarettes (rule 22.8).

The ASA ruled that an ad featuring someone saying “I used to smoke normal cigarettes, but after I quit, I tried these” was irresponsible, because they believed viewers were likely to interpret the claim as meaning the man featured had stopped smoking for a period of time and was therefore a non-smoker who had subsequently taken up using e-cigarettes, rather than someone who had exchanged their normal cigarettes for e-cigarettes (Vape Nation Ltd, 24 December 2014).

In contrast, the ASA did not uphold complaints regarding an ad which they considered contained nothing that was likely to suggest to non-smokers, particularly, that the product featured was for them (Imperial Tobacco Ltd, 20 November 2019). Importantly, this decision was based on the overall content and presentation of the ad, rather than the inclusion of a statement that “For Existing Adult Smokers & Vapers Only). They considered that this text alone was unlikely to deter a non-smoker or non-nicotine user from responding to an ad and that ads needed to comply with the rule when taken into account as a whole.

Don’t target or feature children, or include content which is likely to appeal particularly to children

As with all age-restricted products, there are strict rules around the advertising of e-cigarettes, to protect children and young persons, both in terms of the content of ads and their placement. 

See our guidance on Electronic Cigarettes: Children and young people.

Don’t confuse e-cigarettes with tobacco products

Advertising tobacco products to the public is prohibited (rule 21.1) and while the advertising of e-cigarettes is permitted in some media, those ads must contain nothing which promotes any design, imagery or logo that might be associated with a tobacco brand (rule 22.2).

Equally, ads for e-cigarettes must contain nothing which promotes the use of a tobacco product or shows the use of a tobacco product in a positive light (rule 22.3). Marketing communications must also make clear that the product is an e-cigarette and not a tobacco product (rule 22.4).

Don’t make medicinal claims and take care with health claims

Under rule 22.5, marketing communications must not contain medicinal claims unless the product is authorised for those purposes by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).  This includes smoking cessation claims.

Marketers may only make health claims if they hold robust, product specific, supporting evidence and certain types of claims are likely to remain problematic.

The ASA considered that an ad, which included the claim “ONLY SMOKE IF YOU NEED TO” (Riot Labs Ltd t/a Riot E-Liquid, 15 March 2023), implied that there were times where an individual may need cigarettes and that it was acceptable to smoke on those occasions if necessary. They ruled that the ad breached the Code on the basis that this statement undermined the message that quitting tobacco was the best option for health.

See our guidance on Electronic Cigarettes: Health and medicinal claims.

Don’t mislead about product ingredients or where they may be used

If the product contains nicotine, a statement to make this clear must be included in the ad (rule 22.7). The ASA has ruled that because a banner ad on a marketer’s Twitter page was likely to be interpreted as promoting the marketer’s entire range of products, some of which contained nicotine, the ad breached the Code by omitting that information (Hubbly Bubbly Ltd, 10 June 2015).

Factual claims about product ingredients are likely to be considered acceptable, but marketers must ensure they hold evidence to support those claims and care should be taken to ensure factual claims about product ingredients do not imply a medicinal claim.

While the use of electronic cigarettes in public spaces is not prohibited by law, policy on their use varies and as such, claims that e-cigarettes may be used everywhere are unlikely to be considered acceptable (Desert Point Ltd, 24 October 2012).

For more see ‘Electronic cigarettes: Overview

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