A man and a woman run down a street before taking off into the air with a tail of white mist behind them. Both have an exaggerated look of contentment in their eyes. A voiceover tells the viewer: “Pure satisfaction for Vypers.”
Confused? Well, so probably were many people watching the ITV ad break at 9.45pm on Monday night. But they were witnessing a small television landmark: the return to our screens of Big Tobacco advertising for the first time in nearly 50 years.
British American Tobacco (BAT) on Monday heralded its foray into the lucrative e-cigarette market with a TV, press and poster campaign for Vype, its electronic substitute for smoking. Over the next few months the advert is slated to appear more than 300 times in the breaks between shows as diverse as Brit Cops: Zero Tolerance, Mock The Week, and even 24 Hours in A&E.
The total campaign is expected to cost BAT several million pounds as it attempts to establish a foothold in a market which is already worth $3 billion worldwide. But health campaigners are warning that while they are supportive of advertising which encourages smokers to exchange tobacco products for e-cigarettes, they are concerned that the products could become a gateway into tobacco for the young.
Warning: Not suitable for under-18s
Certainly the Vype advert appears falls squarely into the ‘ aspirational’ model. While it does not compare to the old slogans of 1950s tobacco advertising such as "more doctors smoke Camel than any other cigarette", it does suggest that "Vypers" are young, good-looking and attractive. Even its catch-line, "Experience the Breakthrough" seems to suggest that e-cigarettes might be something worth trying.
BAT deny this, saying the advert will not be shown before the watershed. "We have created an advert that we believe markets Vype appropriately and responsibly for its target audience," said Des Naughton, managing director at Nicoventures, the BAT subsidiary that launched Vype.
But Anna Gilmore, Professor of Public Health at the University of Bath, said she was worried e-cigarettes could glamorise smoking again. "While e-cigarettes could represent a real opportunity for public health because smokers would be way better off on e-cigarettes than cigarettes, there is also a danger that the extensive advertising of e-cigarettes, which look almost identical to cigarettes, will re-glamourise smoking and encourage uptake among young people again," she said.
The Advertising Standards Authority admitted that currently there are no specific rules regarding e-cigarette marketing and that adverts merely have to ensure they do not contain anything likely to be misleading, harmful or offensive. But they are about to launch a consultation on potential specific restrictions in the next few weeks.
"The consultation will cover all aspects of the advertising of e-cigarettes and seek input from a range of experts," said a spokeswoman.