Chinese vaping brand accused of flouting advertising rules designed to protect children
A Chinese-owned e-cigarette brand has been accused of circumventing British advertising rules designed to protect children by recruiting TikTok stars to ‘review’ its products.
Elf Bar has paid TikTok influencers to ‘review’ its products
An investigation conducted by The Observer found that the brand has muddied the waters between advertising and reviewing by paying for coverage of its colorful disposable e-cigarettes.
The paper uncovered examples of social influencers being paid to promote the products, which come in a variety of sweet flavors that could appeal to children, including cola and cotton candy.
Elf Bar has been busy promoting its products on buses as part of an out-of-home (OOH) campaign, but it is its social media strategy that has raised eyebrows amid estimates that TikTok commands the attention of up to half of all 8-11-year-olds and three-quarters of those aged 16-17.
Popular content includes so-called ‘haul’ videos, in which influencers show themselves unwrapping large deliveries of e-cigarettes gifted by Elf Bar, which can rack up hundreds of thousands of views.
A TikTok spokesperson said: “Our guidelines make clear that content promoting the sale, trade or offer of ... vaping products is not permitted, regardless of age. We have investigated and removed the content flagged to us and taken action against these accounts.”
A spokesperson for Elf Bar added: “We are fully committed to addressing the issue of vape products getting into the hands of minors. This includes cracking down on unofficial Elf Bar promotions on social media and rogue retailers. All Elf Bar packaging indicates that our products are not for sale to under-18s.”
The law currently forbids the sale of e-cigarettes to under-18s, but this is easily circumvented by ordering online. Additional safeguards are supposedly overseen by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which mandates that e-cigarettes should not be promoted on any platform where over 25% of the audience is younger than 18.
Similar concerns in the US have seen tobacco companies formally rebuked by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for illegally marketing products to children.