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UK Authorities Investigating British American Tobacco over Advertising of E-Cigarettes on Social Media

Following complaint by Health Groups to UK Advertising Standards Authority over BAT’s Social Media Tactics
April 29, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following complaints by leading health organizations, the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority is investigating British American Tobacco’s (BAT) use of social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to promote its Vype e-cigarettes. According to evidence documented by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, BAT’s posts on social media have been designed to maximize exposure of e-cigarettes to children, teenagers and non-nicotine users, in contravention of U.K. advertising regulations. Complaints have been filed by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH U.K.) and Stopping Tobacco Organizations & Products (STOP).

BAT promotes Vype e-cigarettes through @GoVypeaccounts on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Posts to the accounts feature celebrities and social media influencers using Vype and other content designed to appeal to young people by featuring youth culture, fashion, travel, popular films and celebrity endorsements. According to the complaints, posts are also designed to reach the widest possible audience by using popular hashtags like #throwbackthursday or #style.

U.K. regulations prohibit online advertising of e-cigarettes, but allow a manufacturer to provide factual product information such as the name, content and price of the product on its own websites. The ASA advises that e-cigarette manufacturers’ social media accounts may also provide factual content as long as the content can only be found by “those actively seeking it.”

“By advertising on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, British American Tobacco will reach kids and young people,” said Mark Hurley, director of international communications at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “Tobacco companies like British American Tobacco use social media to promote their products because they think they can get away with it and because they know it reaches young people in the U.K. and around the world.”

In August 2018, a two-year investigation by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids found that BAT and other tobacco companies engage in deceptive social media marketing practices to advertise cigarettes in more than 40 countries around the world. Despite marketing policies stating that the company would not engage in “viral marketing” or “covert marketing where it is not explicitly clear that cigarettes are being advertised,” BAT was found to be paying social media influencers to promote cigarette brands like Lucky Strike or Kent online without disclosing posts were part of a global marketing campaign for cigarette brands. The evidence was submitted to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission urging the agency to investigate British American Tobacco and other tobacco companies’ use of social media. BAT is also facing a legal complaint in Brazil for the company’s extensive use of social media to advertise cigarettes in violation of Brazilian consumer protection laws.

According to the most recent complaint, BAT’s use of social media to advertise Vype follows the tactics used by the tobacco giant to advertise cigarettes online and represents irresponsible marketing that may violate laws in the U.K. and around the world.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH (U.K.), commented: "We challenged BAT about its irresponsible marketing of Vype at the company's 2019 Annual General Meeting last week, but did not get a satisfactory reply. BAT claims to engage in responsible marketing aimed at adult consumers only. But the evidence submitted to the ASA shows that much of their promotion of Vype gives maximum exposure to children and teenagers. Same old tobacco industry, same old tactics."

Professor Anna Gilmore, director of the Tobacco Research Group at University of Bath, and a partner in STOP, a global tobacco-industry watchdog, added:

“This study provides clear evidence that British American Tobacco’s is making widespread, yet hidden, use of social media, influencers, and fashion and film-industry awards to promote its Vype product to the largest possible audience. This flies in the face of BAT's claims to support harm reduction, providing further evidence that the company simply cannot be trusted. It is vital that the ASA holds it to account.

For additional resources, to download photos or view legal complaints filed against BAT, please visit