A london red bus with an advert panel on the side showing an advert for Elf Bar Vapes

Smokescreen: why we reported Elf Bar to the ad regulator

In August we wrote to the advertising regulator, the ASA, to report a series of adverts for Elf Bar vapes with the headline “recycling for a greener future”. 

To see vapes being advertised alongside ‘green’ messaging immediately made us suspicious. E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the UK with 155,000 tonnes thrown away each year and vapes forming a large part of that. Across the UK, 138 million single-use vapes are sold every year, of which 49 percent are thrown away and not recycled. 

In 2022 disposable vape became the most popular type of e-cigarette sold (at 52.0 percent of sales, compared to just 7.7 percent in 2021), with the most popular brands by far being Elf Bar and Geek Bar.

Our complaint

We believe that the Elf Bar ads are potentially in breach of several advertising Codes set by the ad watchdog, in particular CAP Code 11.7:

“Marketing communications must not mislead consumers about the environmental benefit that a product offers; for example … by highlighting an environmental benefit that results from a legal obligation if competing products are subject to that legal obligation.”

We argue that Elf Bar is under a legal obligation to offer recycling for its products under the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations 2013 which stipulate that any producer of 5 or more tonnes of electrical waste each year must provide recycling services to customers – meaning that this headline is not advertising any additional work by Elf Bar to reduce their environmental impact above what they are legally required to do, in breach of Code 11.7. 

In addition, we allege that the adverts mislead customers by omitting material information, lacking documentary evidence to support the claims made, and making environmental claims without supporting evidence, since the Elf Bar website contains none of the important information about which of their products are recyclable and how to recycle them. The product feature in the ads, the 600V2, is listed on the Elf Bar website in the ‘disposable’ section.

A screenshot from the Elf Bar website shows products under the heading "disposables"
A screenshot from the Elf Bar website shows the 600V2 in the ‘disposable’ section. (Image captured 15/08/23)

Finally, we argue that the ads failed to mention the limitation that vaping products cannot, in general, be home recycled, but rather have to be taken to special recycling facilities, such as council-run waste centres. The difficulty of recycling vapes was highlighted in this recent Guardian article.

You can read our full complaint here.

Demand action

The scale of the problem of waste from vaping products, and the rate at which it is growing, demands action to protect the environment. Elf Bar’s advertisement campaign, at first glance, seems to encourage customers to recycle their vaping products, which could be seen to be laudable. But dig deeper, and the adverts seem more like a defensive response to growing concerns about the environmental impact of disposable vapes – reassuring us (misleadingly) of their environmental credentials, and, by assuaging these concerns, to promote continued use of their products.

This tactic is similar to ad campaigns by Big Oil, fossil financiers and other polluters that promote a company’s green credentials without mentioning their overall environmental impact, like this cleaner energy” advert for Shell, which was banned by the ad watchdog in June 2023.

If you want to add your voice to the complaint then you can do so via the ASA website. You can use this blog as a template for your complaint, or write your own.

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