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.

The Code requires marketers offering treatment for smokers to help them stop smoking to hold proof if they claim or imply that smokers will have to make no effort to overcome their addiction. Neither the ASA nor CAP has seen evidence that smokers can stop smoking unless they are determined to do so.

Don’t suggest giving up is guaranteed or achievable without effort

Unqualified claims such as ‘Stop Smoking the easy way’ or ‘Stop Smoking in 1 hour’ often place no emphasis on the participation or action of the smoker and could imply that the method offered, not the smoker’s desire to stop, is the key to success. Those types of claims are unacceptable without substantiation (Rules 3.7 and 12.1) and are likely to be seen as unacceptable guarantees of success (EasyStop, 17 October 2001). Conversely, claims such as ‘If you really want to stop smoking, then one session could be all you need’ or ‘Hypnotherapy could help you to give up, if you are determined to stop smoking’ are fine as long as they are not used to imply that the smoker will be able to break the habit without self-control on their part. Attending a course, being hypnotised or buying a book cannot by itself be sufficient to enable a smoker to quit their habit.

Similarly, words such as ‘easy’, ‘permanently’ or ‘cure’ that imply guaranteed success should not be used whereas ‘simple’ or ‘effective’ might be acceptable in the right context. For example ''For the truly committed, hypnosis could be an effective way to help you give up smoking'' (EasyStop, 17 October 2001).

Marketers should avoid making specific claims such as ‘x% success rate’ without rigorous substantiation. Practitioners, such as hypnotherapists or those using neuro-linguistic programming, should be careful to distinguish between success rates achieved by the method generally and those that they have achieved personally. The ASA has ruled that success rates should not be calculated by customers taking advantage of a money-back guarantee or free follow-up sessions if the method is not successful first time (Dune Hypnotherapy Group, 5 November 2003).

Don’t make a medicinal claim about a product without a relevant marketing authorisation

A smoker who is unable to quit without artificial aids is generally viewed as being addicted.  As such, products that are advertised as stop-smoking aids are presenting themselves as being capable of treating an addiction or its symptoms.  On that basis, all products that claim to help people stop-smoking (including e-cigs nicotine gum, patches, inhalators, lozenges, sprays and microtabs) are regarded as medicinal and marketers must hold a relevant marketing authorisation from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency  (MHRA) before making such claims in their ads (rule 12.11).

In 2014, the ASA investigated an ad for drops which are added to a cigarette filter. The ad included claims that the product could “trap up to 99% of tar and nicotine” that it, “allows you to quite smoking one cigarette at a time” and “"NicoBLOC helps you with your addiction to Nicotine”.  The ASA considered the ad made smoking cessation claims and ruled that because the product was not licensed as a medicine by the MHRA (nor appropriately certified as a medical device) these medicinal claims were unacceptable. Health & Beauty Innovations Ltd, 29 October 2014).

In 2023, the ASA investigated advertising claims for an e-cig product which included “Quit smoking or your money back” and “you can start your journey to becoming smoke free”.  Whilst the ASA acknowledged that several public health bodies had made favourable statements about the potential health benefits of electronic cigarettes, it did not change the fact that the ad made medicinal claims for a product without the appropriate MHRA licence (CCHG Ltd, 15 February 2023). .

See ‘Hypnotherapy’ and Electronic Cigarettes: Health and medicinal claims.

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