UK’s Advertising Standards Agency warns that the charity’s ads promoting the harm reduction value of e-cigarettes technically violate European Union law.

The leading cancer charity in the UK, Cancer Research UK, was set to launch a series of advertisements as part of the government sponsored “Stoptober” campaign. The annual campaign has been held since 2012 to help get people in the UK started on quitting during the month of October. As we reported last week, this is the first year that vaping is officially endorsed as a smoking cessation aid by the event organizers. They had their minds changed after talking to countless individuals who were able to quit using vaping after other nicotine replacement therapies failed. The Policy Manager for Cancer Research UK, George Butterworth, is equally optimistic about the prospects of e-cigarettes bridging the much needed gap. “Research so far shows e-cigarettes are far safer than smoking and may help smokers quit,” said Butterworth.

The research Mr. Butterworth is referring too likely includes, a 2015 PHE study that found vaping is at least 95% safer than smoking, studies that disprove vaping leads to smoking in teens, and a brand new joint study by researchers at Columbia and Rutgers that backs up claims over half of daily vapers actually quit smoking. The 2015 Public Health England report also found that nearly half of people surveyed didn’t understand that vaping was actually any safer than cigarettes, let alone so much safer. This exemplifies why public health experts like Mr. Butterworth are so ready to support awareness of vaping. But the UK’s Advertising Standards Agency warns these ads may not be allowed to air.

ASA’s Warning

The Advertising Standards Agency is a NGO that is charged with regulating the content of any advertisements that market inside of the UK. As a non-statutory organization, they cannot enforce, or even technically interpret, any legislation. But it is well within their job description to inform agencies when they might be in violation of advertising standards set by the government. In line with this, they recently informed Cancer Research UK that the ads they planned on airing during the annual Stoptober campaign would be in violation of EU law. (While the UK has voted to leave the European Union, the official process will not be complete until March 2019) After the news broke, several important players weighed in. The UK’s Department of Health was quick to say that public health campaigns ought to be exempt from such prohibitions, while the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence continue to refute research supporting vaping.

The law in question stems from a 2014 ruling in European Parliament that revised the Tobacco Products Directive to include a ban on most advertisements promoting vaping. The only mediums left unaffected would be Leaflets, Outdoor Posters, Movies, Faxes, and Hard Copy Mail. The UK officially adopted the rule in 2016, and thus no ads for vaping have been seen on UK airwaves in over a year now.

Potential Agreement

The Department of Health in the UK seems to be optimistic that when the ruling actually comes down, it will exempt public health campaigns like Stoptober. So long as they don’t promote any specific brand of e-cigarette, but rather encourage the overall harm reduction value of the medium. This seems like a very reasonable request, one that would probably been followed even if not required. There are still critics though, who think the incorporation of vaping into existing anti-smoking campaigns leads us down the wrong path. But as the evidence continues to build these voices will become less frequent and more easily disputed. It is critical that awareness campaigns like Stoptober continue to come around to e-cigarettes so the greatest number of people will have a chance to hear the real story about vaping. The biggest challenge limiting e-cigarettes from reaching their full smoking cessation potential continues to be the lackluster awareness in the general public of its benefits.

Do you think that public health campaigns should be exempt from these kinds of regulations? How important is it that existing anti-smoking campaigns incorporate vaping into their policies? What do you think the biggest thing hurting the public image of vaping is? Let us know in the comments.



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