The advertising watchdog has banned British American Tobacco (BAT) from promoting e-cigarettes on public Instagram pages, including through the use of influencer marketing.
In a landmark ruling, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) stated that the tobacco giant had breached regulations on promoting unlicensed, nicotine-containing e-cigarettes.
UK rules state that e-cigarette makers can provide factual product information such as the name, content and price of the product on their own websites, but may not advertise them online.
The watchdog upheld complaints against seven Instagram posts promoting Vype — an e-cigarette brand owned by BAT — including three featuring pop star Lily Allen.
In its ruling, the ASA stated that BAT’s Instagram posts went beyond providing factual information and therefore constituted advertising.
One post was also blocked for depicting a model who appeared to be under the age of 25. A further complaint that the ads were likely to be aimed at people under 18 was thrown out by the regulator.
“The ASA’s ruling is a huge step forward in preventing tobacco companies from using social media to advertise to young people in the UK and around the world,” said Mark Hurley, director of international communications at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which filed the complaint.
“While the ASA ruling is great news, urgent policy change is needed from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to prevent BAT and other tobacco companies from using social media to advertise their harmful products to young people around the world.”
The ASA said the ads must not appear again, and warned BAT not to post any promotions for e-cigarette products on Instagram in future.
A spokesperson for Instagram parent company Facebook said: “We do not allow adverts that promote the sale or use of tobacco or electronic cigarettes. Earlier this year we updated our policy to restrict organic content that depicts the sale or purchase of tobacco products to over 18s.
“We are currently updating our branded content policies to no longer allow paid promotions of these products too.”
The ruling was one of four made this week over e-cigarettes, as the watchdog cracks down on the promotion of nicotine products on social media.
Image credit: Advertising Standards Watchdog/BAT/Instagram