A social and environmental disaster

The use of vapes (or e-cigarettes) has exploded in recent years with over 4 million people regularly using them. Although potentially useful as an aid to quit smoking, the sheer scale of vape use – especially of disposable vapes – and the speed with which it has grown has created huge social and environmental problems such as youth vaping and plastic waste.

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.

Research from campaign group Materials Focus found that just 17 percent of vapers report correctly recycling their vapes. Consequently, some 260 million disposable vapes were thrown away in the UK, making them a leading cause of the rise in plastic pollution in recent years.

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.

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A platform for polluters

In February 2024, the government announced plans to ban the sale of single-use vapes across the UK and the regulate the promotion and packaging of other vape products. However, there remains a serious loophole in the law on vape advertising. Despite being prohibited almost everywhere else, ads for nicotine-containing vapes are permitted on outdoor advertising.

Pie charts visualising youth vaping statistics.

As the outdoor ad industry likes to boast, outdoor ads reach 95% of the UK population. That means millions of people – including children – are exposed to ads for nicotine products every week, often without them even noticing. 

From vapes to fossil fuels, flights, SUVs, fast fashion and climate-damaging foods, outdoor advertising time and again provides a willing platform for harmful products.

Send in vape ads you’ve seen

Have you seen vaping products advertised outdoors, maybe on a billboard or free-standing ad screen? Let us know. Send a photo of the advert using the form below (portrait is best). We can use your images to build a case against outdoor advertising of vape products and push for the law to be changed.

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Our work

Stopping vape advertising to kids

In March 2024, the ad watchdog banned a series of billboard ads from vape supplier Alfabar because they were “likely to appeal particularly to people aged under 18.” The ads featured the Alfabar Alien, a disposable vape shaped like a cartoon alien with light-up LED eyes. Worse, one such billboard ad seen in Bristol was just 300 metres from a primary school.

Adfree Cities reported the ad the the ASA and we were very pleased that the regulator sided with us to ban the ads. However, the whole episode goes to show the flaws in the current model of regulation. The ads were seen by the ASA’s copy advice team prior to publication, so why weren’t they stopped at that point?

A win against plastic pollution

In 2023, Adfree Cities scored a big win against disposable vapes when a complaint to the ad regulator resulted in misleading adverts for vape company Elf Bar being banned. The ads promoted a disposable vape under ‘green’ messaging about recycling, despite the fact that the advertised vape can’t be fully recycled, nor do most vape users know how to recycle their used vapes.

Screenshot from The Guardian showing a headline about the ASA banning Elf Bar vape ads.
Screenshot from Sky News showing a headline about the ASA banning Elf Bar vape ads.