Thursday, October 09, 2014

New UK Advertising Rules for E-Cigarettes Prohibit Companies from Telling the Truth About Their Products

The UK's Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) has announced new rules, effective on November 10, which restrict electronic cigarette advertising.

According to CAP:

"In summary, the rules state:
  • Ads must not be likely to appeal particularly to people under 18, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture
  • People shown using e-cigarettes or playing a significant role must neither be, nor seem to be, under 25
  • Ads must not be directed at people under 18 through the selection of media or the context in which they appear
  • Ads must not encourage non-smokers or non-nicotine users to use e-cigarettes
  • Ads must make clear that the product is an e-cigarette and not a tobacco product
Ads on TV and radio will be subject to scheduling restrictions to reduce the chance of e-cigarette advertisements being seen or heard by children. Furthermore, unless manufacturers obtain an authorisation for their product from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, ads for e-cigarettes cannot convey health benefits or claim that they are ‘safer’ or ‘healthier’ than smoking tobacco."

The Rest of the Story

While many of these restrictions are reasonable, the final restriction mentioned - the prohibition on electronic cigarette companies claiming that these products are safer than tobacco cigarettes - is both inappropriate and devastating to the public health interest.

The restriction is inappropriate because it prohibits companies from simply telling consumers the truth about the relative safety of their products. Arguably, this is the single most important piece of information that every consumer needs to know. Keeping consumers in the dark about the relative safety of electronic cigarettes vs. tobacco cigarettes does not serve any public health interest. In fact, it does just the opposite.

By blocking e-cigarette companies from telling the truth to consumers, CAP has completely undermined the very purpose of electronic cigarette marketing. The only reason these products are on the market and being used extensively in the first place is that they are much safer than regular cigarettes. If they weren't safer than cigarettes, there would be no justification for these products to even remain on the market. Moreover, they would not have become so popular among smokers because no one is going to switch to a product that delivers less nicotine unless it has health benefits.

The relative safety of e-cigarettes over tobacco cigarettes is their primary selling point.

Destroying this selling point helps no one except for the UK's cigarette companies, which stand to enjoy a bigger run of profits due to CAP's stupidity.

The major purpose of regulating advertising in the first place is to prohibit companies from deceiving consumers. But by precluding companies from telling consumers the truth, the CAP's regulations actually ensure that consumers are deceived. There is no legal nor public health justification for this campaign of deception. It protects cigarette profits at the expense of the lives and health of UK citizens.

Disclosure: I have not received any funding or compensation from the tobacco, electronic cigarette, or pharmaceutical industries. However, I am seeking funding from several electronic cigarette companies to conduct a behavioral study on the effects of electronic cigarettes on smoking behavior. 

1 comment:

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