The Drum Awards Festival - Official Deadline

-d -h -min -sec

Health & Pharma Marketing

Rishi Sunak missed an open goal on vape marketing


By Mark Scott, Exec director of marketing and comms

May 7, 2024 | 4 min read

The CIM’s Mark Scott explains how the UK PM’s anti-smoking crusade should encapsulate vaping too, especially shirt sponsorship in football.

A collection of vapes

Last Wednesday, Rishi Sunak was asked a question on the topic of football shirts that feature vape company logos. Despite vaping and smoking regulation having been high on the prime minister’s political agenda recently, he gave a non-committal answer that suggested it should be up to individual clubs to decide what goes on the front of their shirts.

The question was set against the context of the Conservatives’ Tobacco and Vapes Bill, the predominant aim of which is to create a ‘smokeless generation.’

More relevant for marketers, however, is the bill’s secondary goal, which is to introduce new powers to restrict vape flavors and packaging to make them less appealing to children, something we’ve been calling for repeatedly.

With such strong legislation in the works, it’s concerning that the prime minister showed no desire this week to support a ban on the marketing of vapes in football. As the national sport, football attracts huge numbers of viewers and is a favorite among many young children. With child vaping on the rise, it would be unacceptable that children’s favorite players and teams are wearing vaping brands on their kits every weekend.

Sports and sponsorship have an uneasy history when it comes to advertising. Football shirts were dominated for a long time by alcoholic drinks logos and, more recently, betting companies, while Formula 1 cars became synonymous with cigarette brands. While there has been some progress, lessons must be learned if the government is serious about protecting children from the dangers of vaping.

Whether there’s a place for the marketing of vapes and tobacco products more generally is an open discussion. What is clear is that any campaigns or partnerships must be firmly aimed at adults who can make informed decisions.

Clear regulation, backed by the government, can help leading bodies like the FA shine a spotlight on the great work that brands do invest in football from the grassroots, right up to the national team, rather than sponsorship deals that sit uncomfortably with many.

Our view - which is shared by the overwhelming majority of the public - is that the vaping rules should align with the marketing for cigarettes and other tobacco products. Our research shows that four in five (79%) support rules for vaping products that would mean no advertising and plain packaging, as with cigarettes. A similar proportion (81%) agree that there should be more regulation to prevent the marketing of vapes to 11 to 17-year-olds.

My hope is that, given the health implications, further regulation from the government is forthcoming. It’s vital that the measures are comprehensive in order to protect children. As well as supporting the measures outlined in the Cigarettes and Tobacco Products Bill, we’re calling on the government to take the proposed restrictions further and extend them to wider sectors such as football, whether that’s via the introduction of laws on sports products, or removing advertising from spaces that children are likely to be around such as football grounds.

Health & Pharma Marketing

More from Health & Pharma

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +