We recently reported vaping company Alfabar to the ad regulator over a billboard advert seen in Bristol in December. The advert promoted the Alfabar Alien, a disposable nicotine-containing vape with “LED light effect eyes”.
We argue that the inclusion of light-up eyes in the product in the first place, and the subsequent prominence of this feature in the advert is clearly designed to appeal to children under the age of 18. The ad is therefore in breach of advertising regulations.
Read our submission to the ASA in full here. We’ve recommended that the regulator, the ASA, acts swiftly to ban this advert and ensure it does not appear again.
Youth vaping is a growing issue in the UK, one brought into sharp focus by the case of Sarah Griffin, a 12-year-old girl hospitalised by her vaping addiction last year.
In 2023, 20.5% of children had tried vaping, up from 15.8% in 2022 and 13.9% in 2020. By far the most frequently used vaping product (69% of use) is a disposable vape, similar to the kind advertised by Alfabar. Just one in five children (11-17-years-old) had never seen vaping products promoted, and one in seven had seen them promoted on billboards.
In the case of the Alfabar billboard, we were particularly concerned by the fact that the location is just 160 metres from a primary school and is passed by hundreds of children every day.
Vape advertising on billboards
This is not the first time we’ve reported vaping ads to the ASA. Last year we reported Elf Bar over adverts that made misleading green claims regarding recycling disposable vapes. The ASA upheld our complaint in that case and the ads were pulled.
Beyond these instances, we are concerned by a glaring loophole in the law around advertising vapes. Ads for nicotine-containing vapes are prohibited in almost all cases, except trade press, point-of-sale marketing (inside shops) and outdoor advertising.
As the outdoor ad industry likes to boast, outdoor ads reach 95% of the UK population every two weeks. That means millions of people – including children – are exposed to ads for nicotine products every week, often without them even noticing.
From fossil fuels, to flights, SUVs, fast fashion and climate-damaging foods, outdoor advertising time and again provides a willing platform for harmful products.
The environmental cost of single-use vapes
Disposable vapes, like the Alfabar Alien, have rapidly become a major source of plastic pollution in the UK. In 2022 disposable vapes 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 being Elf Bar and Geek Bar.
However, research from campaign group Materials Focus found that just 17 percent of vapers report correctly recycling their vapes. Consequently, 260 million disposable vapes were thrown away in the UK in 2022. Vape recycling is possible and offered in some shops and supermarkets, however awareness of this amongst vape users is as low as 17 percent.