A commercial showing a woman "vaping" an e-cigarette was broadcast on U.K. TV for the first time last night, on the same day that strict rules surrounding the advertising of the nicotine-dispensing devices were relaxed.
The e-cigarette brand VIP was the first to take advantage of the new rules, which now allow advertisers to show the product, as well as to show people in the act of vaping.
VIP co-founder David Levin said in a statement, "This will mark the first time in almost 50 years that TV audiences see someone exhale what appears to be cigarette smoke in an ad. However, it is actually vapor from an e-cigarette that they will see."
E-cigarette brands are spending on advertising now because, earlier this year, the EU passed new rules that starting in 2016 will re-classify e-cigarettes as "tobacco-related products." They will be subject to the same advertising ban as regular cigarettes -- unless their manufacturers can get them classified as medicinal products -- and will be required to display graphic health warnings.
The VIP commercial, created by agency 438 Marketing, shows an attractive woman vaping. She says, "Find out why 89% of our consumers said they prefer VIP over other brands."
However, it is the same woman who appeared in one of a pair of controversial commercials that were banned by the Advertising Standards Authority in February for being "overly sexual."
Neither ad showed vaping, but one featured the woman saying, "I want you to get it out so I can see it, and I want to touch it and feel it. Then I want to put it in my mouth so I can put my lips around it." In the second, a man used the same sort of innuendo with the words, "I want you to get it, out I want you to feel it, to touch it.Then I want you to put it in your mouth, wrap your lips around it and suck."
The ASA said in its ruling at the time, "We considered the sexually provocative presentation of the male and female characters, in conjunction with a graphic description of oral sex, was likely to cause serious and widespread offense to viewers."
Mr. Levin said, "E-cigarettes have attracted a lot of controversy recently, which has largely been due to concerns over safety, so it will be interesting to see how people respond to our advert's debut."
Two versions of the newest ad – a-10 second and a 20-second cut – will run in various post-watershed slots over a period of five weeks. The spot was shown in the very first ad break after the 9 p.m. cut-off, on the U.K.'s biggest commercial channel, ITV1, during crime drama Grantchester.
Despite some relaxation of the laws surrounding e-cigarettes, there are still strict codes around advertising the product. The new rules might allow for vaping, but they state that ads must not appeal to people under 18 ("especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture"), must not encourage non-smokers to use e-cigarettes, must not claim e-cigarettes are safer or healthier than smoking tobacco, or make any health claims without approval from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.
VIP is owned by Electronic Cigarettes International Group, which claims to be the largest independently owned e-cigarette company. It has operations in North America, where its biggest brands are Victory and FIN; and Western Europe, where it is best known for Vapestick and VIP.