The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has come down hard on four e-cigarette brands for promoting their products to the public on Instagram.
Lucky Strike maker British American Tobacco is among those to have received a warning and an ad ban for flogging unlicensed, nicotine-filled e-cigarettes and using influencers who appeared under the age of 25 to do so.
UK brand Mylo Vape, Amavape and Attitude Vapes also received a slap on the wrist from the watchdog.
The rulings underscore the fresh challenges faced by regulators in policing the burgeoning e-cigarette space as a mix of upstarts and traditional tobacco giants enter the fold.
The global market is expected to be worth $32bn (£25bn) by 2021, with the UK poised to grow to $5.67bn (£4.46bn) over the same period.
The ASA stipulates that posts designed to promote any nicotine-based e-cigarettes (which haven’t been licensed as medicines) shouldn’t be made from public Instagram accounts unless steps are taken to target only willing followers.
Its also states that such promotions should show people “who are, or seem to be, under 25” using e-cigarettes or playing a significant role.
In all cases, brands were found guilty of flouting those rules, prompting the ASA to come down hard on the burgeoning industry.
British American Tobacco received complaints from Action on Smoking and Health, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Stopping Tobacco Organisations and Products (STOP) concerning seven Instagram posts.
Three of the pictures in question featured musician Lilly Allen DJing at an event to promote the company’s electronic Vype product and holding the vape herself with a caption referencing the Brit Awards.
Another, meanwhile, riffed off actor Rami Malek’s 2019 Bafta win for Bohemian Rhapsody. It showed a Vype stick alongside the caption: ‘And the winner is… #epen3 #vype #productoftheyear #vapecommunity. Oh and…#ramimalek #bohemianrhapsody #baftas #bestactor #baftas2019. Vype e-cigarettes contain nicotine. 18+ only. Read leaflet in pack’.
British American Tobacco argued that the information it provided online was "factual in nature" and either focused on the product's characteristics or linked it to events or collaborations.
The ASA, however, concluded that these ads were among others containing text which “went beyond factual information about their product". It contended they were therefore promotional in nature.
It also banned one of the firm’s Instagram Stories updates, which depicted a young woman using an e-cigarette, because it discovered the model to have been 24 years old at the time of publication.
Allen Carr’s Easyway addiction clinic was responsible for the complaints against Amavape and Attitude Vapes, along with the ASA itself. Both brands were rapped for using young women to sell their product, with the watchdog saying it was unable to verify the ages of those featured.
Mylo Vape, meanwhile, was issued with a ban for reposting an image of Instagrammer Eleanor Rae smoking an e-cigarette.
In the US, government regulators including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently took a hard line on firms using influencers to pitch their e-cig products.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has also been highlighting influencer campaigns that fail to disclose material health or safety risks in their advertising or include federal warnings for items including nicotine.