UK advertising watchdog bans more JTI ads attacking plain packaging

17 Apr 2013


The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has found that Camel maker Gallaher's claims about 'booming' black market and amount of unpaid duty were misleading.

In a compliant lodged with the advertising watchdog, Cancer Research UK said Gallaher, which markets brands including Benson & Hedges, Camel and Silk Cut, had made misleading claims that the black market was "booming" and that £3 billion was lost in unpaid duty were misleading.

In two ads that Gallaher, owned by Japan Tobacco International, ran in UK national newspapers, it claimed that government moves to potentially introduce plain, standardised packaging would be a boon for criminals trading in fake cigarettes.

"What make it easier for criminals to make a packet? … The black market in tobacco is booming" runs a line in one of the ads. "Standardising packs will make them easier to fake and cost taxpayers millions more than the £3bn lost in unpaid duty last year."

The ASA referred to a report, Tackling Tobacco Smuggling: Building on Our Success, from Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC), which stated that the "tobacco illicit market had been reduced significantly over the last decade".

HMRC figures show that the illicit market for cigarettes in the UK has more than halved in a decade. The ruling noted that JTI had itself acknowledged that the illicit trade in tobacco products has reportedly been a declining trend in the last ten years.

The ASA further found that HMRC used upper and lower limits for estimating losses from unpaid duty - ranging from about £1.2 billion to £3 billion for cigarettes and hand-rolled tobacco. It added  Gallaher's ads failed to state that the £3 billion figure was not just for cigarettes, which most consumers would assume from reading the ads.

JTI was also told it could not claim that the UK had suffered ''£3 billion lost in unpaid duty last year''. The ASA noted that this figure was used by the HMRC when referring to an estimate revenue loss figure - which is in fact far lower.

Concluding that the ads were misleading, the ASA told Gallaher they must not appear again without changes.

According to Paul Willimans, head of corporate affairs at Gallaher's parent company, Japan Tobacco International, the ruling came as a result of a complaint made to the ASA from a group campaigning and lobbying for tobacco control measures rather than from any member of the general public.

He added that whilst the company would not publish the advertisement in question again, it disagreed "with those who appeared to wish to close down the debate by challenging the semantics of our statements rather than the substance". He added, the company would continue to express its concerns, as it was essential that common sense and sound evidence prevailed.

Meanwhile Cancer Research UK said in a press release, "The latest decision is in response to complaints made by Cancer Research UK and follows a previous ruling in March about earlier adverts, when the ASA told JTI it could not claim that the government had categorically "rejected" the policy of plain packaging for cigarettes in 2008.

 JTI launched a £2 million advertising campaign in July 2012 opposing the idea of putting all tobacco products in plain, standardised packs of uniform size, shape and design.

JTI's latest advertisement uses a 2011 letter between civil servants in the UK and Australia in another effort to discredit plain, standardised packs as being without evidence.

Australia introduced standard packs in December 2012, despite British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco and Philip Morris having challenged the Australian legislation in the country's High Court, under which they would be forced to use drab packaging with disturbing images of the health impacts of smoking. (See: Australia may be hit with the third WTO suit over tobacco packaging).

The ongoing use of such a large advertising budget to try to block this measure highlights the industry's fear of how effective this move will be in reducing the attractiveness of their products.

The move is being seen as a test case in the struggle by tobacco firms to counter growing global action by governments that have seen tighter rules on cigarette sales over the past decade.

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