LONDON — About 50 years after Britain banned television advertisements for cigarettes, they are back. Except this time they are for the electronic kind.
British American Tobacco, one of Europe’s biggest tobacco companies, said it would start showing television ads for its Vype electronic cigarettes in Britain Monday evening. The ads, which will also run online, are made possible by a loophole in the British advertising code written years before e-cigarettes came into widespread use.
The television ad shows a woman and a man running through a city at night before jumping in slow-motion through a wall of vapor, a reference to the mist emitted by the popular but debated devices, which deliver nicotine without burning tobacco and produce a vapor, not smoke. The ad slogan is “experience the breakthrough.”
Britain banned television ads promoting cigarettes in the 1960s, and a ban on ads for other tobacco products, including cigars, followed in the early 1990s, according to the Advertising Standard Authority in London. The regulator acknowledged that the current rules “were not designed with e-cigarettes in mind” and that it planned to start a consultation process to revise the rules at the end of this month.
“There’s a lack of clarity among advertisers but also with consumers and we are aware of concerns that ads for e-cigarettes might be seen as cross-promoting tobacco and cigarettes through the back door,” the spokesman said.
Health officials in Europe and elsewhere have yet to decide whether e-cigarettes are to be deemed harmful. They have not been linked to any serious health issues, but have been widely used for only a short time. Critics have said that by appearing similar to cigarettes, they could encourage children to take up smoking and that they should be banned from restaurants and other public spaces. Those in favor of e-cigarettes have campaigned to add them to the official list of ways to quit smoking tobacco cigarettes. In Britain, e-cigarettes are expected to be licensed as medicine beginning in 2016.
On television and radio, advertisers in Britain cannot depict products that resemble cigarettes, including any design, color, imagery or logo style that might be associated with a tobacco product, the advertising regulator said.
British American Tobacco said it developed an advertising campaign that it deems to “be appropriate and responsible in the absence of clear guidelines on e-cigarette advertising.” The ad states that its Vype e-cigarette product contains nicotine and is for consumers older than 18 years. The company also said it identified, when possible, its target consumers, who are smokers or people who use rival e-cigarette products.
Initially available only online, e-cigarettes are now sold in supermarkets, corner shops, gas stations and larger concert venues. The actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Catherine Deneuve, a longtime heavy smoker, have been spotted puffing e-cigarettes. The global e-cigarette market is now valued at an estimated $3 billion, with Britain accounting for about $350 million of that, according to Damian McNeela, an analyst at Panmure Gordon.
Regulators and lawmakers around the world are weighing whether to ban or restrict the sale and marketing of the devices as sales grow rapidly. The European Parliament voted Oct. 8 to scrap proposals by health officials to regulate e-cigarettes as a medicinal product, and the United States Food and Drug Administration is expected to soon set marketing and product rules on the devices.
Tobacco companies have been investing in e-cigarette products as sales of tobacco cigarettes continue to slide. Larger companies are increasingly taking market share from smaller rivals, which were the first to start selling e-cigarettes. The Altria Group announced its foray into the e-cigarette market through its NuMark subsidiary last year while a rival, Lorillard, bought an e-cigarette maker, Blu eCigs, in 2012.
“For the first time in its history, tobacco has a rivaling product,” Mr. McNeela said, but he added that e-cigarettes were far from a finished product because the taste was still different from traditional cigarettes and there were other factors, like how fast the nicotine enters the bloodstream. “The long-term question is whether e-cigarettes pose a real threat to the tobacco industry,” he said.
Despite the loophole in advertising, British American Tobacco had to make one compromise with its Vype television ad. Instead of claiming that Vype offers “pure satisfaction for smokers,” as it does in online ads, the television ads say they are “pure satisfaction for vapers.”