Advertising vaping products online

In the last 12 months CAP and the ASA have been taking front-foot action, through proactive investigations and using an AI based ‘Active Ad Monitoring System’, to identify and tackle ads for e-cigarettes and/or vaping products that, in breach of the rules, were appearing in social media and targeted at under-18s.

This work sits against a backdrop of wider societal concern about a significant increase in underage-vaping. Vaping products (nicotine-containing vapes not licensed as medicines) are prohibited from being advertised in various media and cannot be targeted at children.

We recently issued an Enforcement Notice to e-cigarette manufacturers and retailers to serve notice that they must immediately stop any problem advertising of vaping products online, or in social media, or face sanctions.

So, who do the rules apply to?

For the avoidance of doubt, e-cigarette advertisers include: 

  • Retailers and manufacturers of e-cigs and their components
  • Accounts of employees of e-cigarette businesses
  • Other promotional / advertorial accounts under e-cigarette advertisers’ control

And where do the advertising restrictions apply?

E-cigarette ads are prohibited in any online media where the content is actively shared to users who have not specifically sought it out. This means paid-for display ads in all online space are prohibited, but it also means that regular posts and content in social media, which gets actively shared by an algorithm to users, are prohibited too.

What does that mean in practice? Prohibited ads include posts on e-cigarette advertisers’ social media accounts, including photos, images, text and videos on platforms including Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, where the accounts and the content on them is able to be algorithmically shared to other users.

It’s important to note that these prohibitions do not amount to a complete advertising ban. Retailers and manufacturers can communicate with a legitimate audience. The Advertising Code states:

Factual claims about products are permitted on marketers’ own websites and, in certain circumstances, in other non-paid-for space online under the marketer’s control.

An additional restriction applies, however. Websites and privately administered social media accounts are permitted to communicate factual (non-promotional) information only. Further guidance on what is likely to constitute promotional material can be found in our Advertising Guidance.

But what if I need more advice?

If in doubt on how and where to publish a vaping ad, err on the side of caution; the rules don’t prohibit you from legitimately advertising vapes responsibly to adult smokers, provided those ads are not targeted, through content or placement, at under-18s.

You can find further advice and guidance on this topic on our website and for bespoke advice on non-broadcast ads, use our Copy Advice service which offers free advice, in confidence, to anyone who is planning to advertise and wants to sense check their ideas.

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