A billboard with a advert for vaping products. Text across the board reads "out of the world flavour" whilst underneath are images of the vape.

Vaping ads banned for appealing to children

Billboard adverts from vaping supplier Alfabar were banned by the ad watchdog this morning because they were “likely to appeal particularly to people aged under 18.”

The ads promoted the Alfabar ‘Alien’ disposable vape, which is style to look like a cartoon alien and features glowing LED ‘eyes’. In their ruling, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) noted that the imagery of the eyes along with the general design of the advert “presented the device as more of a plaything”.

Adfree Cities reported the ads to the ASA in January after seeing the billboard ad in Bristol, displayed on a busy road just 320 metres from a primary school.

James Ward, a campaigner from Adfree Cities, said:

“Advertising regulation is light years from where it needs to be to protect children from harmful promotions. If a giant billboard advertising nicotine on a major road approaching a primary school can make it onto our streets in the first place, then regulation is not up to task.

“We need a national ban on all vape advertising to close the loophole that at present allows such ads on outdoor advertising, like billboards, even when they are banned almost everywhere else. If ads for nicotine-containing vapes are so harmful as to be banned on TV, radio, online and in print, then why are they being displayed on billboards in public space?”

Ad regulation isn’t working

Alfabar, and parent company Hing Fo International Ltd, did not respond to the ASA at any point during the complaint investigation.

Outdoor advertising company JCDecaux, who own the billboards on which the Alfabar ads appeared, did respond to the investigation to say that they had ensured the ad was not placed within 100 metres of a school, in line with advertising rules, and had sought advice from the ASA’s copy advice team prior to publishing the ad. 

Which begs the question: did the ASA’s copy team sign off on the ad before publication? How could an ad that so blatantly flouts regulations on nicotine advertising to children be approved in the first place?

If regulation doesn’t work to stop harmful vape advertising then we need legislation. Under current legislation, ads for nicotine-containing vapes – such as the Alfabar Alien – are prohibited in almost all cases but not outdoor advertising. According to the outdoor advertising industry, the medium regularly reaches 95% of the UK population.

Stay Updated with Adfree Cities

Youth vaping

Youth vaping is a growing issue in the UK. 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.

In a 2023 survey, just one in five children (11-17-years-old) reported never having seen vaping products promoted, whilst one in seven had seen them promoted on billboards. Of the survey respondents, 54% reported their primary reason for vaping was “just to give it a try”, suggesting this age bracket is highly susceptible to vape marketing.

Pie charts visualising youth vaping statistics.
Based on data from ASH.

Published by