E-cigarette adverts have little influence

In recent years, heavy emphasis in advertising has been placed on the health of the consumer. The ban on TV ads for cigarettes in 1965 was merely the beginning of a long process of health awareness advertising, leading to the warnings we see on tobacco packaging today such as “Smoking Kills”. The advert shown in early November is part of this trend, showing smokers an acceptable alternative to cigarettes.

The advert focuses on a group of people at dinner discussing their life since switching to e-cigarettes, adhering to the rules set in place by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), which preclude products from making health claims without approval from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. Yet, the implication is clear: using e-cigarettes will improve your lifestyle. This has led many to argue that there is a danger that non-smokers may buy and use e-cigarettes instead of its intended market- those who wish to give up. It has been argued that the advert glamourises e-cigarette use, encouraging its use by everyone, not just smokers. However, to suggest that a couple of adverts have this kind of influence is erroneous.

It is far more likely that people under the age of 18, those considered the most impressionable in society, would seek to emulate their favourite period TV and film characters. The effects that these characters have on our sense of fashion and behaviour, as well as our habits, are far reaching. Rather than the implication of an advert encouraging us to smoke, we have serial dramas which become embedded in our popular culture, characters we are exposed to in a far greater degree than just one advert. If we must question the impact advertising has on us, we must also acknowledge the far greater power of television programming in shaping our views.

The advert must be viewed in the wider context of anti-smoking measures. First, the law which previously prevented e-cigarettes from being advertised on TV only referred to the display of the device itself; adverts have previously appeared which do not show it. Secondly, the 1991 EU ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship on television remains in place, as do regulations regarding the advertisement of e-cigarettes. The changes to the law simply represent a harmonising of non- broadcast and broadcast media. Equally, the other measures of the tobacco ban are far more stringent than the implications of the advert. The banning of tobacco sponsorship of sporting events within the UK, like the World Snooker Championships in 2005, meant that the last tobacco sponsors on British television were gone.

Taken together, the evidence suggests that e-cigarette adverts will not encourage smoking, particularly as the anti-smoking campaign has gone to extreme lengths to eliminate the image that smoking is fashionable, thereby mitigating any effects that TV shows or adverts might have on the public. Also worthy of note is the fact that since 1974, the year of the first ONS surveys, the proportion of the population who smoke has seen a steady decline, from 45% of the population in 1974 to just 20% in 2012. From this, we can gather that concerns about the e-cigarette advert are founded in a desire to preserve this trend. However, it seems apparent that given the advert’s relatively short exposure time and the monumental shift required to undo anti-smoking campaigns, we have less reason to be concerned.

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