The IBVTA has partnered with Public Health England's Stoptober and Health Harms campaigns since 2017.
We have done so to help raise awareness of the relative risk of smoking versus vaping among the millions of smokers who incorrectly believe that vaping is as or more harmful than smoking. In line with the Tobacco Control Plan for England, the IBVTA believes that more smokers switching to vaping is good for the individual, and good for public health.
Our partnerships on these campaigns involved posters and digital assets developed by PHE, co-branded with the IBVTA logo, which were then provided to our members for use in their shops, and on their websites and social media channels.
However, before Christmas, we were informed by PHE that it appears the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) has advised that any co-branded materials would be in breach of advertising rules. Effectively, PHE cannot have independent vape shops support the campaign which launched on the 28th of December.
There are two important aspects to this:
1. CAP recently changed the rules to allow producers of vaping products to make health claims about their products, once the producer could provide evidence which backed up the claim being made. The relative health claims which would have been made by PHE on the co-branded materials were for no specific product, and were in response to the fact that 44% of current smokers wrongly believe that vaping is as or more harmful than smoking.
We question CAP’s position on this, because public health advocates need to be able to make positive statements on the relative risks of smoking versus vaping.
2. It appears that PHE has also been advised that our members cannot use any of the campaign assets, even those not co-branded with the IBVTA logo, because to do so would be to indirectly promote vaping products, and thus be in breach of the advertising rules. However, the general campaign assets can be used by pharmacies, which might sell NRT products or vaping products produced by tobacco companies. They can also be used by corner shops, even cigar shops, which sell smoking products produced by tobacco companies.
Again, the IBVTA question CAP’s interpretation of the regulations here. The message that vaping is safer than smoking is not a specific product endorsement, it is simply a statement of fact.
PHE’s core messages on vaping are that smokers should try vaping, and that vapers should stop smoking completely, and vape shops are best placed to give this advice to smokers and vapers.
The consequences of CAP holding this position are twofold. Independent vape shops are being prohibited from supporting a government public information campaign. And, more importantly, an unfair competitive advantage is being created for the tobacco industry.
So what are we doing about this on our members' behalf?
We have written to both the Public Health Minister and CAP to ask for an explanation why their interpretation of the advertising restrictions runs counter to government policy and the Tobacco Control Plan. A copy of that letter has also been sent to PHE. We are raising this issue with the Dept of Health & Social Care and politicians, and we will continue to engage with government for advertising restrictions on vaping products to be lifted.
With the recent guidance announcement from CAP/ASA on allowing producers to make health claims versus the position they have taken on the Health Harms campaign, CAP are giving the independent vape industry an inch, but taking back a mile.
The independent vape industry can and should be trusted to carry the message that vaping is safer than smoking. But it cannot do this until the restrictions on advertising are changed.