Media Brand Safety

ASA orders Relx and Louis Shaw to stop promoting e-cigarettes on Instagram

By Taruka Srivastava | Freelance journalist

June 28, 2022 | 4 min read

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has directed Chinese e-cigarette brand Relx and Geordie Shore star Louis Shaw to stop promoting nicotine-containing e-cigarettes on Instagram.

In December 2021 an Instagram story on Shaw’s account showed a hand holding two boxes containing unlicensed e-cigarettes with the brand name RELX, with text stating: ‘@RELXUK’ and ‘GET YOUR OWN – RELAX WITH 15% OFF – LOUISXMAS15.’ This 15% discount code for the product was considered promotional by the ASA.

The ad also featured text saying, ‘This product contains nicotine, which is a highly addictive substance.’

ASA directs Relx and Louis Shaw to not promote e-cigarettes on Instagram in future

ASA directs Relx and Louis Shaw to not promote e-cigarettes on Instagram in future

The ASA concluded that it breached the Cap Code (Edition 12) 2.1, 2.3 and 22.12.

The post was investigated on two grounds:

  • The complainant challenged whether the ad did not make clear its commercial intent

  • The ASA challenged whether the ad breached the code by promoting unlicensed, nicotine-containing e-cigarettes and their components on Instagram

As per Relx, the Instagram story was user-generated content (UGC), designed and posted by Shaw and not shared with or approved by Relx before he posted it. It said the discount code used in the ad was a referral reward that was given to any customer, and it was given to Shaw to share with his online and offline friends who were existing adult smokers and vapers. He then used it in his Instagram story to reach more of his friends. The use of the code did not result in any payment or commission from Relx to Shaw, and the star said the issues would not arise again.

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The ASA said that both Relx and Shaw were “jointly responsible” as Relx ran an affiliate program and had gifted the product to him. As an affiliate, Shaw had a contractual relationship with Relx, and stories posted under that relationship fell within the remit of the Cap Code.

The ASA concluded marketing communications with the direct or indirect effect of promoting nicotine-containing e-cigarettes and their components that were not licensed medicines should not be made from a public Instagram account in future, unless they had taken steps to ensure they would only be distributed to those following their account and would not be seen by other users.

It also concluded that brands must ensure they make clear the commercial intent of their posts in future, for example by including a clear and prominent identifier such as ‘#ad.’ The ASA welcomed assurances from both Relx and Mr Shaw that similar stories in future would include such a label.

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