Stores in the dark over e-cigarette promotion laws

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Large numbers of retailers are leaving themselves open to prosecution for promoting their electronic cigarette (e-cig) ranges on social media.

A ban on the advertising and promotion of e-cigs was enforced on 20 May 2016 as part of the new European Tobacco Products Directive (EUTPD). Article 20(5) “prohibits the advertising, either directly or indirectly, of e-cigs in online media”.

However, an investigation by C-Store has revealed widespread ignorance of the new law among retailers, with many stores still promoting their e-cigs and liquids on sites such as Facebook.

All of the retailers in question were either unaware of the new advertising and promotion laws, or mistakenly believed that they applied only to manufacturers.

All price promotions, special offers, competitions, or comparisons between e-cig products all constitute promotion and are prohibited under the new laws, the UK Department of Health said.

As C-Store went to press one well-known retailer added a post to his store’s Facebook page highlighting a half-price special offer on a leading e-cig brand. Another was also actively promoting the price of his e-liquids on the store’s Facebook page. He was shocked to learn that he may have been inadvertently breaking the law. He also runs regular online competitions offering free e-liquids to winners who share his store’s posts.

Another retailer was actively advertising his ‘3 for £10’ offer on all his e-liquids.

Dan Cocks of Whitstone Stores in Holsworthy, Devon, was also unaware of the new laws. “I had no idea that we were no longer able to advertise our e-cig range on social media - there’s been zero communication about this from the authorities or manufacturers. We used to promote e-cigs heavily on Facebook, but stopped doing so a few months ago as we felt that it might not be responsible, considering that young people visit our page.”

No official info

“I wasn’t aware of these new laws. I source my e-liquids from a small local supplier and I’ve received no advice about this from them.”

Anonymous retailer

“I am aware of the law and stopped promoting our range on Facebook in April. The information did not come from my suppliers or authorities, though; it was through one of my employees who is a vaper and knew about the change.”

Paul Cheema, Malcom’s Stores, Coventry

LEGAL LOWDOWN

What’s not allowed:

Advertising e-cigs on the internet (including social media) is prohibited.

E-cig advertising in newspapers, magazines, on the TV and radio is also banned.

Leaflet drops about e-cigs are also not allowed.

What is allowed:

E-cigs and accessories displays.

Stores can still talk to shoppers about e-cigs and display responsible, factual or educational material/posters.

Stores caught breaking the new law face a prison sentence of up to three months, a fine of up to £5,000, or both.

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  • Almost 40% of retailers illegally sold electronic cigarette products.
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