A LEADING Scots health academic has slammed “harmful” e-cigarette marketing tactics.
Linda Bauld, Professor of Health Policy at Stirling University, has said there is “cause for concern” in the way companies are pushing their products.
The professor, who is also deputy director of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, warns that there are also “no controls” when it comes to alcohol adverts in the UK.
And she is now calling for tighter regulations across the advertising industry.
Currently, e-cigarette companies are allowed to advertise their products within a regulatory framework, meaning they cannot make smoking cessation claims or target youngsters.
But Professor Bauld suggests there is still reason to be wary.
“I’d say that the evidence of marketing being targeted at children is mixed, but there’s definitely a lot of it,” she said.
“It’s a cause for concern and we need marketing regulations. The Advertising Standards Authority has a role to protect the public against harmful advertising.
“They brought in regulations last year to allow the public to complain about e-cigarette adverts. There have been a number of complaints and two adverts were forced to be withdrawn, so we do have some controls in place.”
However, she warned that the alcohol industry may be bending the rules when it comes to advertising.
She said: “We have the same for alcohol adverts and it doesn’t make a difference – they do all the things they aren’t supposed to do.
“We need to crack down on the marketing of alcohol as there are no controls at all in Scotland and it’s so prevalent all across our society.”
New proposals may lead to e-cigarette adverts only being shown at the point of sale – in the shops where they can be bought.
Professor Bauld added: “I have a mixed view about it. I think you need some marketing of e-cigarettes to encourage the adults who want to stop smoking to try it.
“It’s hard to know what to do – whether we take it all away or keep it going in order to aid those wanting to stop smoking.
“I’m in favour of e-cigarettes as a quitting tool for current smokers.”
She also aired her concerns about e-cigarette companies being “bought up” by tobacco giants.
“One of the issues for us is that e-cigarette companies have been increasingly bought up by the tobacco industry,” she said.
“Ideally they should be distributed by independent companies as the objective of the tobacco industry is to keep people smoking . We want to try and keep a lid on some of the tobacco companies’ involvement.”
John Watson, deputy chief executive at Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Scotland, agreed that the marketing is showing a disturbing trend.
“We’re concerned at some of the marketing we’ve seen around e-cigarettes,” he said.
“It’s hard to walk down the street without seeing adverts and some of them are reminiscent to old tobacco adverts.
“We should restrict marketing that’s going to encourage young people to smoke but there is also the potential to help current smokers stop.”
Experts are yet to conclusively determine the health risks of e-cigarettes, which have helped some smokers quit but still contain the highly addictive substance nicotine.
A spokesman for the Advertising Standards Authority said: “The UK advertising rules require e-cigarette ads to be responsible with a particular emphasis placed on protecting young people and non-smokers.
“The ASA will not hesitate to take action against any ad that breaks the rules and if an e-cigarette ad encouraged young people to try vaping it would be banned.
“Similarly, the UK alcohol advertising rules are robust with the strict controls applying equally to Scottish media.
“The evidence to date suggests that the current rules are a proportionate and reasonable response to concerns about the potential for alcohol advertising to encourage irresponsible consumption or under-age drinking.
“If anyone has concerns about ads for these products then they should lodge a complaint with us so that we can ensure the rules are being followed.”