Advertising Authority Rules Against Tobacco Industry Again: ASH Calls JTI Ad Campaign “Blatantly Dishonest”

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Yet again, the tobacco industry has been caught using deceptive advertising to try to block legislation to help cut smoking rates. The Advertising Standards Authority has ruled that adverts run by Japan Tobacco International (JTI) against the introduction of standardised (“plain”) tobacco packaging were misleading and must not be published again.[1]

ASH and a number of other organisations had complained following the publication of the ads by JTI in April 2013. [2] This is the third time that the ASA has criticised the series of six JTI ads run as part of the company’s £2m advertising campaign against standardised tobacco packaging launched in 2012. [3] All six of the ads have now been ruled misleading. [4] Action on Smoking and Health has commented that this makes the JTI campaign “one of the most blatantly dishonest in recent UK advertising history”.

JTI has spent £2m publishing misleading ads in national newspapers and journals reaching millions of people in the process. By contrast the ASA ruling is likely to receive minimal press coverage.

The Government is now consulting on draft regulations to bring in standardised packaging and ASH is calling on Prime Minister David Cameron to make a public promise that the final Regulations will be voted on by Parliament before the next General Election. [5]

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of health charity ASH  commented:

Yet again the claims made by JTI have been found to be false and misleading. The evidence from Australia is clear: standard packs make smoking less attractive and have helped drive down smoking rates.  Standard packs will help deter children from starting to smoke, which is why tobacco companies are fighting so hard against it. It’s time for the Prime Minister to say that the tobacco industry won’t succeed in its dishonest campaign, and that Parliament will get the chance to vote on standard packs Regulations before the next Election.”

Details of Advertisement and ASA Ruling

In April 2013, a national press advertisement for Gallaher (JTI’s trading company in the UK) included a reproduction of an email from the UK Department of Health to the Australian Department of Health and Ageing.  The email featured text from a civil servant enquiring about the evidence on standard packaging in Australia and included the statement “… you will be aware that the UK Government is considering the introduction of plain packaging of tobacco products.  As I’m sure you are aware, one of the difficulties regarding this is that nobody has done this and therefore there isn’t any hard evidence to show that it works.”  The text “there isn’t any hard evidence to show that it works” was highlighted by Gallaher.  Text beneath the original email stated: “WE COULDN’T HAVE PUT IT BETTER OURSELVES”.

Gallaher said the ad was intended to question the rationale of the Department of Health’s approach in 2011 and said that at the time the ad appeared Gallaher was using the campaign to “demonstrate that in 2011 even the DoH accepted that these proposals are not supported by any hard evidence”.

In its adjudication the ASA noted that the date of the email was included in the ad but considered that the presentation of that information was not clear and that in any event readers would consider the highlighted reference to “there isn’t any hard evidence to show that it works” as being a reference to the position at the time the ad appeared and not only to the position two years earlier.  The ASA stated that:   “We considered consumers would interpret the claim to mean that no real evidence existed to support the introduction of plain packaging at the time the ad appeared.”  

The ASA understood that the Department of Health considered the email was not intended as a definitive statement about the state of evidence on plain packaging in May 2011 and did not reflect their view of the evidence at the time the ad appeared.  Furthermore, the ASA noted that a number of peer-reviewed and published studies were available by April 2013 to support the introduction of plain packaging.  For these reasons the ASA ruled that the ad was likely to mislead and should not be published again.

Current Position

Since the publication of the JTI ads in 2013, further evidence to support the implementation of standard tobacco packaging has emerged, most notably in the form of the review by Sir Cyril Chantler which was published in March 2013.  Chantler concluded that:

“Having reviewed the evidence it is in my view highly likely that standardised packaging would serve to reduce the rate of children taking up smoking and implausible that it would increase the consumption of tobacco.  I am persuaded that branded packaging plays an important role in encouraging young people to smoke and in consolidating the habit irrespective of the intentions of the industry.”    [6]

Subsequently the Government published draft regulations and a further short public consultation to take into account any new evidence. The consultation closes on 7th August. [5]

The JTI campaign is part of a heavy lobbying campaign by the tobacco industry against standardised packaging. This includes the use of PR companies to petition government, and “anti-plain packs roadshows” across the country.  BAT is reported to have allocated £500,000 to the latter campaign. [7]


click on the image for a bigger version

Notes and Links:

[1]  ASA Final Adjudication. Case number: A13-228477/DJW   

[2] Complainants included: ASH, Cancer Research UK, UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies, plus ten others.

[3]  First JTI Campaign around “Plain” Cigarette Packs.  JTI Media release, 6 July 2012

[4] A similar ruling was made in 2013 against earlier JTI ads.  (Use search box for ‘JTI’ or ‘Gallaher’)

The ASA ruling against 3 press ads on 24 March 2104 stated:

The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told JTI not to claim that in 2008 the Government had “rejected” the policy of plain packaging for cigarettes.”

The ASA ruling of 17 April 2013 against 2 press ads for JTI which claimed that standard packaging would lead to a rise in illicit tobacco found the ads to be misleading and JTI was ordered not to publish them again.

[5] The draft regulations are open for consultation until 7th August.

[6]  Standardised packaging of tobacco.  Report of the independent review undertaken by Sir Cyril Chantler.

[7] See for example: APPG on Smoking & Health Political Bulletin  Spring 2014

The latest smoking prevalence data from Australia has shown a fall in adult smoking from 15.1% in 2010 to 12.8% in Nov 2013. Plain packaging was implemented on 1 December 2012.

2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey: key findings (2013 NDSHS) Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).