Chinese e-cigarette giant violates UK advertising rules on sale to children | electronic cigarettes

A leading e-cigarette brand breaks rules to promote its products to young people in Britain observer The investigation found, with experts warning that children as young as seven years old use sweet-flavored and brightly colored e-cigarettes.

Elf Bar, the Chinese vaping giant that has seen its products being used by under-18s in the past year, is being promoted by social influencers, who in some cases claim they got paid for promotions and taking advantage of free products.

The videos – many of which show influencers vaping on camera – are not age-restricted and are not always clearly marked as ads. Some have attracted hundreds of thousands of views on the short video app TikTok, which is used by half of eight- to 11-year-olds and three-quarters of 16-17-year-olds.

The promotions, which appear to break rules banning the advertisement of e-cigarettes on social media, appear to be part of Elf Bar’s campaign to reach new customers in Britain, including campaigns on buses, billboards and giveaways from its products. This weekend, TikTok removed two accounts promoting Elf Bar products after alerting them observer.

The UK vaping market is worth more than £1 billion a year, but public health experts worry that single-use e-cigarettes like those made by Elf Bar, which cost less than £3.99 each, are driving up use among young people. .

Selling e-cigarettes to people under 18 is illegal, but it’s easy to buy them online and on public streets.

The Association of Public Health Directors (ADPH) said this weekend it wants to see stricter regulations banning brightly colored packaging like those used by Elf Bar and review flavors likely to appeal to children.

Dr Gareth Nye, head of the medical sciences program at the University of Chester, warned of potential long-term health consequences, including lung disease. “Although vaping is of great benefit to many people, the shocking increase in the number of non-smokers and journalists picking up on these products means we need to think seriously about the way these products are advertised and sold,” he said.

Photo from the Elf Bar website, which features young female models vaping. Image: no credit

Elf Bar was hardly known as an e-cigarette brand a couple of years ago, but now it is one of the most popular among young people in Britain. The brand, owned by a China-based tech company, is known for its disposable vapes, which come in flavors like rainbow candy, butter, and cheese.

It does not contain tobacco but comes pre-filled with a salt nicotine based e-liquid containing 20 milligrams of nicotine per milliliter – the highest concentration allowed by UK law.

Health experts are concerned that the growing popularity of the Elf Bar, whose slogan is “Make it an elf, enjoy yourself”, may lead to a surge in e-cigarette smoking among young people in Britain in the same way that Juul has allegedly fueled the use of e-cigarettes among children in the United States.

Young woman smoking electronic cigarettes
More than half of young adults who smoke e-cigarettes said that single-use e-cigarettes, such as those made by Elf Bar, were their preferred product, a sevenfold increase since 2020. Photography: Igor Elkov/Alamy

Juul, which is partly owned by Marlborough cigarette maker Altria, was ordered last month to remove all of its products from the US market by the Food and Drug Administration, whose director claimed its products had played a “disproportionate role in the rise of youth vaping.” The company is appealing the ban, which has been temporarily frozen.

In Britain, while the number of young people using e-cigarettes is relatively low, research indicates that the number is increasing. A survey by YouGov and the charity Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) found that the proportion of 11-17-year-olds who smoke e-cigarettes has increased from 4% in 2020 to 7% in 2022. It rose from 14% to 16%.

More than half of children who smoke e-cigarettes said disposable e-cigarettes were their preferred product – up from 7% in 2020 – and the most popular brand among them was Elf Bar.

Chart shows sharp rise in e-cigarette use among 16-18 year olds in the UK, which has more than doubled over the past year

Bar chart showing more than half of 11-17 year olds who use disposable e-cigarettes and have tried the Elf Bar brand

There are strict rules for promoting e-cigarette products in the UK which are designed to prevent irresponsible marketing and advertising targeting young people. In 2019, four e-cigarette companies were punished for violating advertising rules to promote their products on social media.

But it seems that the promotions on TikTok for Elf Bar products openly violate these rules.

“Haul” videos that show influencers unpacking large packages of products they say were sent to them for free, or post reviews they say are sponsored, have drawn hundreds of thousands of views.

A British TikToker company said in videos that it “works at an Elf Bar” and is being paid by the brand to publish its products. One of the comments says: “Easy money.” Another says: “Get free Elf bars and get paid to taste them to test them out.”

Her content, which has been viewed 5 million times, includes a video of her trying a cherry-flavored disposable Elf Bar vape on camera, which is offered as a review but contains a small sticker stating that it is an advertisement. “Oh my God! She’s beautiful.” That’s beautiful. It tastes like cherry… I’m obsessed. I love him. I think it beats every flavor I’ve tried so far.”

In another video, she reveals a “huge delivery” of Elf Bar products, with flavors including cheesecake, rainbow fudge, and buttercream, and declares: “Elf Bar, I just love you.” The video was marked “Gifted”, indicating that the products had been sent to her by an Elf Bar, but was not clearly labeled as an advertisement. Another British website TikToker that promoted Elf Bar products stated on their profile that he is 20 years old. One video, which has been liked over 7000 times, showed him holding disposable vape pens in different camera colors. “What’s your favorite flavor because I haven’t tried one from @Elfbarofficialuk #ad,” the caption states.

Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) rules state that e-cigarette ads must be responsibly targeted, not directed at people under 18, and should not be advertised on any platform where more than 25% of the audience is under 18. People in advertisements promoting these products must not be, or appear to be, under 25 years of age.

The watchdog said it was evaluating the evidence that had been passed to it before observer. After contacting the comment, TikTok said it had removed the content that was flagged for violating its rules.

A company spokesperson said: “Our guidelines make it clear that content that promotes the sale, trading or display of … vaping products is not allowed, regardless of age. We have investigated and removed content that was flagged to us and took action against these accounts.”

The Ash Company, which promotes vaping as a healthy alternative to cigarettes, said the Elf Bar ads were “problematic” and helped “push the concept of magic around these devices.”

Hazel Cheeseman, the charity’s executive vice president, said: “The public health value of e-cigarettes is to help with smoking cessation, but they don’t seem to be positioning these products as an alternative to smoking cigarettes. They are promoting it as an enjoyable experience in and of itself.”

Public health directors are now backing calls for tougher regulations on e-cigarettes after warning about reports that children as young as seven are using e-cigarettes. They also want new restrictions on promoting vaping to youth.

“E-cigarettes — vaping — started on a small scale,” said Ruth Tennant, ADPH board member and director of public health at Solihull. [in schools], but anecdotal evidence from school administrators points to a much bigger problem. The school is talking about doing things like searching bags…We are likely to create addiction.” Last month, the Devon County Council sent a letter to school administrators warning of a rising number of accidents involving pupils and the use of e-cigarettes. She says the problem is mainly in high schools, But she cautioned against reports that some primary school students are using vaping products.

Steve Brown, Devon’s director of public health, said the Elf Bar brand had promoted its products on its website with young models, and was concerned it was targeting young adults. He said: “In the ’70s and ’80s, tobacco packages were branded to lure people into smoking, and what worries me is that we are something similar in the vaping market.

“It’s a nicotine product and we need controls similar to tobacco.”

A review by former Barnardo chief executive Javid Khan on the government’s ambition to make England smoke-free by 2030 warned last month of the “Wild West” of e-cigarette products available online. The report said vapes were “at least 50% and possibly closer to 95% less harmful than a cigarette.” The report said that schools and college leaders were of the opinion that e-cigarette products were readily available to those under 18. The report suggests banning cartoon characters from vaping products, reviewing available flavors, banning companies from offering vaping products for free, and making the use of age-restricted products illegal on school and college premises. The report is awaiting the government’s response.

John Dunn, director general of the UK E-cigarette Industry Association, which represents companies in the sector, said he was concerned about the increasing reports of vaping in schools. He said, “We are getting calls from schools because they are starting to see children getting these products. They are primarily one-time use.”

Dunn said the association had been calling for tougher regulations, including tougher fines of up to £10,000 for fraudulent traders selling children. “It’s not rocket science,” he said. “If you don’t want children to use these products, you should stop the supply.”

In a statement, Elf Barr said she was “fully aware of UK regulations” and would conduct an “internal investigation” into the allegations made against her. observer. It said it has a “no-paying influencers” policy in place and that it complies with ASA regulations on vape advertising, and has preapproved it to run campaigns on buses and billboards.

A company spokesperson said: “We are fully committed to addressing the issue of e-cigarette products getting into the hands of minors. This includes everything from suppressing unofficial Elf Bar promotions on social media and fraudulent retailers. All Elf Bar packaging indicates that our products are not It is for sale to anyone under the age of 18.

The Department of Health and Social Care said: “We have some of the strongest regulations in place on e-cigarettes in place to protect young people, and we will continue to work closely with the MHRA. [Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency]commercial standards and other regulatory enforcement agencies to ensure that products sold in the UK comply with them.”

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