First ‘Mom jeans’ and scrunchies came back in fashion, now Big Tobacco is lighting up on screen again for the first time in more than two decades, as British American Tobacco launches an advertising campaign for its new e-cigarette Vype. MT can’t help but think it’s the 90s all over again…
Vype was launched by BAT in July, its first attempt to crack a rapidly growing market as sales of traditional tobacco continue to decline. Cigarette sales are falling an average of 3% a year in the US as smokers kick the habit, while baccy-watchers estimate sales of e-cigarettes rose from $600m (£358m) in 2012 to $1bn last year.
While some have hailed e-cigarettes as the answer to our public health prayers, the long-term health impact of puffing on nicotine vapour is murkier than a smoke-filled dive.
There’s also the danger that advertising e-cigarettes could renormalise smoking in general, particularly as some, BAT’s Vype included, are specifically designed to look like normal cigarettes (plus, their packaging is terribly appealing: those tiny cigarette packets are very cute. So cute, in fact, that there have been concerns e-cigarettes are being marketed to appeal to kids).
British advertising regulations are super strict, though, banning anything that looks like a cigarette. The Vype TV ad, which is being shown for the next two months, shows sprinting people being blown into the air by a puff of vapour with the tagline ‘satisfaction for vapers’ (vapour puffers, geddit?)
The Advertising Standards Authority hasn’t quite decided what it thinks about this e-puffing malarkey either and launched a full public consultation on their advertising earlier this year.
‘There is a regulatory gap here,’ an ASA spokesperson told the FT. ‘Advertising codes were not designed with these products in mind.’
Cigarette ads were barred from British TVs in the 1960s, while loose tobacco and cigar promotions were banned in the early 1990s.
Globally, the e-ciggie market is worth $3bn, a mere speck in the $700bn tobacco industry. However, the entrance of big baccy and their advertising dosh could transform a fragmented industry populated by small companies.
Following in BAT’s vapour trail, fellow FTSE 100 giant Imperial Tobacco is launching its own e-cigarette later this year, while the big American manufacturers placed their bets on e-baccy in 2013.
Small e-cigarette businesses could soon struggle as the bigger businesses muscle in, particularly as their products will be regulated as a medicine in the UK from 2016. BAT, Imperial et al are used to squaring up to regulators and surviving, whereas the smaller companies will need to beef up or be stubbed out.
Here's the Vype commercial, for those who are interested. Not exactly mind-blowing...