A series of advertisements from Japan Tobacco International (JTI) made claims that cannot be substantiated and breached the UK advertising code according to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) today (Wednesday).
The ASA has ruled that the adverts in several national publications in September 2012 were misleading and that JTI cannot claim that “the black market in tobacco is booming”.
The latest decision is in response to complaints made by Cancer Research UK and follows a previous ruling in March about earlier adverts, when the ASA told JTI it could not claim that the Government had categorically “rejected” the policy of plain packaging for cigarettes in 2008.
JTI launched a £2 million advertising campaign* in July 2012 opposing the idea of putting all tobacco products in plain, standardised packs of uniform size, shape and design.
JTI’s latest advertisement uses a 2011 letter between civil servants in the UK and Australia in another effort to discredit plain, standardised packs as being without evidence.
Australia introduced standard packs in December 2012.
The ongoing use of such a large advertising budget to try to block this measure highlights the industry’s fear of how effective this move will be in reducing the attractiveness of their products.
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) figures show that the illicit market for cigarettes in the UK has more than halved in a decade. The ruling noted that JTI had themselves acknowledged that the illicit trade in tobacco products has reportedly been a declining trend in the last ten years.
JTI was also told it could not claim that the UK had suffered “£3 billion lost in unpaid duty last year”. The ASA noted that this figure was used by the HMRC when referring to an estimate revenue loss figure – which is in fact far lower.
The ASA also noted that because the advert contained a picture of a cigarette packet, it was not clear that the figure was intended to relate to a combined total for both cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco.
The ASA has ruled that the ads must not appear again in their current form.
Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UK’s executive director of policy and information, said: “This welcome judgement highlights that yet more of Japan Tobacco’s claims are misleading. The tobacco industry has focussed its opposition to plain, standardised packs on a claim the illicit trade would increase. Independent experts have repeatedly said these claims do not make sense. Now an independent regulator has told JTI that its communications could not be substantiated.
“As JTI released its latest round of national adverts last week, this decision comes as a timely reminder about an industry that simply cannot be trusted on public health policy. 207,000 11 to 15 year olds start smoking in the UK each year so it’s vital we continue to do all we can to prevent another generation becoming addicted to tobacco. Plain, standardised packs won’t stop everyone from starting smoking, but it will give millions of children one less reason to start.”
For media enquiries contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 8300 or, out of hours, on 07050 264 059.
For more information about Cancer Research UK’s “Setting the Standard” campaign to raise awareness of the consultation and allow the public to show support for standardising packaging and removing glitzy and alluring designs visit www.cruk.org/standard-packs.
A copy of the adjudication is available under embargo from the Advertising Standards Authority.
*Two variations of wording appeared across the UK media:
- (a) a national press ad featured an unmarked packet of cigarettes. Text stated “WHY MAKE IT EASIER FOR CRIMINALS TO MAKE A PACKET? In the current economic climate, the black market in tobacco is booming. Standardising packs will make them easier to fake and cost taxpayers millions more than the £3 billion lost in unpaid duty last year.”
- (b). a national press ad featured an unmarked packet of cigarettes and a star which contained the text “ONLY £3bn”. Text stated “The black market in tobacco is booming. Last year it cost the Treasury £3bn in unpaid duty.”