ASA rules tobacco multinational’s ads on plain packs misleading

Wednesday 13 March 2013

The Advertising Standards Authority has ruled that ads run by Japan Tobacco International (JTI) against the introduction of plain, standard packaging are misleading and must not be published again.[1]

The ads, placed in the national press in 2012, stated that in 2008 the Government had “rejected” plain packaging for tobacco because “there was no credible evidence” to support such a policy. The ASA in its ruling noted that the Government had included plain packaging as one of a number of issues during its consultation on tobacco control and that even though it had decided not to press ahead with plain packaging at that point in time, it had intended to keep the measure under review. Therefore the ASA concluded that to suggest that the Government had totally rejected the policy was misleading and breached the advertising code of practice.

In its adjudication the ASA states: “We considered that readers of the ads would be likely to interpret the use of the word “rejected” to describe that decision as a more categorical action than had in fact been taken.”

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of health charity ASH which made the complaint which led to this ruling [2] commented:

“This is another blatant example of tobacco industry attempts to derail public health policy. The industry has a long history of distorting evidence and working covertly to minimise or overturn tobacco control measures.” [3]

Stephen Williams MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health said that he would be notifying fellow parliamentarians of the ASA ruling to warn them that the tobacco industry funded “Hands Off Our Packs” campaign [4] was repeating the misleading wording used in the JTI ads in its lobbying of MPs. He said:

“MPs should be aware that the claims made by JTI are false and misleading. Proposals to introduce standardised packaging are still being considered by the Government. The evidence is clear: plain packs will discourage children from taking up smoking and will prevent many young people from entering a life-long addiction resulting in poor health and premature death Tobacco companies know that plain packaging will deter new smokers and that is why they are fighting tooth and nail to stop it.”


Notes and Links:
[1] ASA Final Adjudication. Case number: A12-208266/SC
[2] Other complainants included ASH Scotland and Cancer Research UK
[3] The smoke-filled room: How Big Tobacco influences health policy in the UK. London, ASH, 2010
[4] Hands Off Our Packs is a campaign group run by the smokers’ rights group FOREST which is in turn funded by the tobacco industry.