A website for VPZ VapeClinic, www.vpz.co.uk, seen on 30 August 2022, featured a headline which stated “Make the switch today with the VPZ Vape Clinic”. Text underneath that stated “Book a FREE 30 minute appointment today. Quit, or your money back. Vape Clinic by VPZ is a dedicated, one-to-one consultation with our e-cigarette specialists. We’ll guide you through various cigarette alternatives to find the perfect fit for your needs so that you can start your journey to becoming smoke free. We’ll continue to offer guidance and help on your cigarette free journey and if after 4 weeks you’re not happy with your cigarette alternative, you’ll get your money back.” Alongside that, “QUIT SMOKING OR YOUR MONEY BACK” was stated in large font.
IssueThe complainant, who believed that the ad implied medicinal claims for smoking cessation, challenged whether it breached the CAP Code.
CCHG Ltd t/a VPZ confirmed that their products were not authorised by the MHRA for smoking cessation. They said that the ad described the “vape clinic” service offered by their retail stores. They explained that as part of that service they sold a range of cigarette alternatives, and it was necessary to provide their customers with relevant factual and product-focused information to make an informed purchase. They asserted that the ad provided accurate and factual information about the clinic and that it was necessary to include smoking cessation claims in order to fully inform those who were looking to use vapes as a means of quitting smoking. Because the website provided factual information, they considered that it was not an ad for the purposes of the CAP Code.
VPZ did not consider that the ad contained any medicinal claims. Regarding the claim “make the switch today with the VPZ Vape Clinic”, they said that their intention was to inform adult smokers that vaping was an alternative to smoking tobacco. They supported that claim by referencing a Public Health England 2021 report which stated vapes were the most popular aid to help people quit smoking. They also referenced a government commissioned review which recommended vaping as a method of quitting smoking.
VPZ said that the advertised money back guarantee reflected their belief in smokers being able to successfully quit smoking tobacco via vaping. They explained that if a consumer had been unable to substitute smoking tobacco with vaping after four weeks, then they would receive a refund on all vaping products purchased with VPZ. They further highlighted that business commitment demonstrated their confidence in vaping as a means of stopping smoking.
The CAP Code stated that marketing communications must not contain medicinal claims unless the product is authorised for those purposes by the MHRA. Claims that e-cigarettes were capable of helping users to quit smoking cigarettes or reduce the amount that they smoked were considered medicinal claims for the purposes of the Code. Whilst the ASA recognised that several public health bodies had made favourable statements about the potential health benefits of e-cigarettes, medicinal claims in marketing communications for e-cigarettes remain prohibited in the absence of a relevant MHRA licence. We understood that the e-cigarettes promoted by VPZ were not authorised by the MHRA for that purpose and therefore smoking cessation claims were prohibited from marketing communications.
We noted that the ad contained several explicit references to smoking cessation, such as “you can start your journey to becoming smoke free”, “your cigarette free journey” and “QUIT SMOKING OR YOUR MONEY BACK”. Furthermore, we noted that those claims referred to e-cigarettes as the means of quitting; for example, the ad stated that “various cigarette alternatives” would enable individuals to start their journey to “becoming smoke free”, and the “QUIT SMOKING OR YOUR MONEY BACK” guarantee was based on the individual’s experience with the products and dissatisfaction with their chosen cigarette alternative. We therefore considered that the emphasis of the ad was on quitting smoking and how that would be achieved using the e-cigarette product range offered by VPZ.We also noted the use of the term “clinic” in the ad, along with the claim that individuals could “make the switch today with the VPZ Vape Clinic”. We acknowledged that the marketing of a vape clinic or claims stating that individuals could switch to vaping were not medicinal claims in themselves. Nevertheless, because the overall impression of the ad emphasised that vaping was a means to quit smoking, rather than presenting it as an alternative to tobacco products, we considered that the claims would also be interpreted as smoking cessation claims by consumers.
For those reasons, we concluded that the ad contained medicinal claims for smoking cessation which were prohibited by the CAP Code.
The ad breached CAP (Edition 12) rule 22.5 22.5 Marketing communications must not contain medicinal claims unless the product is authorised for those purposes by the MHRA. E-cigarettes may be presented as an alternative to tobacco but marketers must do nothing to undermine the message that quitting tobacco use is the best option for health. (Electronic cigarettes).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told CCHG Ltd not to make smoking cessation claims about their e-cigarette products in the absence of a relevant MHRA licence.