TV ads 'sexualise e-cigarettes'
Anti-smoking campaigners have accused TV advertisements which show e-cigarette use for the first time of "sexualising" vaping.
The ads for VIP e-cigarettes, which feature a woman exhaling vapour, will debut tonight during a break in ITV1's Grantchester following a change in the law.
But campaign groups have said the tobacco-free gadgets should not be aimed at a general audience and questioned whether new advertising rules are fit for purpose.
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of anti-smoking charity ASH, said: "Vaping is safer than smoking but it's not harmless and e-cigarettes should only be promoted to smokers.
"VIP are clearly trying to create media controversy over their advertising on the assumption that any publicity is good publicity.
"They're hyping the fact that their ad makes it look like someone is smoking in a TV ad, which has been prohibited for many years.
"But they're missing the point as far as ASH is concerned.
"These ads sexualise e-cigarette use and do not make clear that these products are not for a general audience but are aimed at smokers.
"ASH doesn't see how these ads conform to the new advertising rules and if they do, then we are seriously concerned that the rules are not fit for purpose.
"Responsible advertising of e-cigarettes has its place, but this isn't what we'd call responsible advertising."
Two versions of the ad - a 10-second cut and a 20-second cut - will run after the watershed over a period of five weeks.
They can be broadcast following a legal change from the Advertising Standards Authority which comes into effect today.
It is not the first time VIP's TV campaigns have sparked controversy - its first ad, broadcast last December, was also criticised.
Dave Levin, co-founder of VIP, said the new campaign would mark the first time in almost 50 years that TV audiences see someone exhale what appears to be cigarette smoke.
"We aren't afraid to provoke a debate about e-cigarettes," Mr Levin said.
"They are part of our society and we're offering our customers a healthier alternative to smoking.
"Recently, two separate papers in the UK have accused the World Health Organisation of exaggerating the dangers posed by e-cigarettes.
"One concluded that for every million smokers in the United Kingdom who turned to e-cigarettes, 6,000 premature deaths would be prevented each year - which would have a huge impact on public health, let alone NHS budgets."
Geraint Davies, Labour MP for Swansea West, said: "Today's first cigarette advert on TV since 1965 is a disgrace and will encourage under-age smoking and smoking overall."
Mr Davies, who has presented a private bill to prohibit the advertising of electronic cigarettes and to stop their sale to under-18s, warned that e-cigarette advertising would be used as a "Trojan Horse" by big tobacco companies.
"These adverts should be banned and the ASA replaced with a body that protects consumers instead of being in the pocket of manufacturers," he said.
"Everyone agrees that it's far healthier to smoke e-cigarettes than normal cigarettes but TV advertising of any smoking will glamorise all smoking.
"TV advertising of e-cigarettes will be used as a Trojan Horse by tobacco giants to make smoking acceptable and desirable again."
Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, called for "severe enough punishment" if the VIP spot is found to be contrary to advertising guidelines.
"Advertising guidelines are very clear on this: no e-cigarette advert can be targeted at non-smokers or portray smoking in a positive light," Dr Woods said.
"There is good reason for this - although e-cigarettes are generally considered much less harmful than smoking, there is a serious lack of data on their long-term health impact.
"They therefore really shouldn't be used by anyone who isn't already a smoker trying to quit. Even then, making the most of your local stop-smoking support services is statistically much more likely to help you achieve that success.
"If this new advert does contravene the guidelines, the punishment will need to be severe enough to ensure that the manufacturers do not benefit from it, either by promoting their product in an inappropriate way or from the storm of publicity that will accompany it.
"If the punishment doesn't match the crime, then frankly these advertising guidelines aren't worth the paper they're written on."