Electronic cigarette claims banned

In collaboration with the Press Association

Claims that a brand of electronic cigarettes is "completely harmless" have been banned after a watchdog ruled that they misled consumers.

The website for Nicolites, which sells electronic cigarettes containing a cartridge holding liquid nicotine, said the vapour inhaled and exhaled by users resembled smoke but was harmless.

Another claim said it was the tobacco in standard cigarettes that was harmful, and nicotine was mildly addictive but did not pose a health hazard.

But one reader complained that the claims were misleading and could not be substantiated.

Defending the website, the manufacturers of Nicolites said the ingredients in its liquid, which were heated to create a vapour, had been tested in the UK and subjected to a toxicology risk assessment to confirm that they were all safe.

It said the same pharmaceutical grade nicotine that was used in products such as nicotine patches, gum and inhalators was used in its electronic cigarettes, and it could therefore claim that the nicotine would pose no health hazard.

But the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld the complaint, noting that the evidence submitted by Nicolites referred to individual ingredients and also to studies involving animals.

The toxicology risk assessment, which did not take the form of a controlled clinical trial, concluded that the cigarette was unlikely to pose a health risk "over and above that of cigarettes".

The ASA concluded: "We considered, however, the implication of the ad, via claims such as 'it's simply a completely harmless vapour' and 'poses no health hazard' was that the product would pose no risks to health at all.

"For the reasons given, we considered the claims that the product was not harmful had not been substantiated and we therefore concluded that the ad was misleading."

It ruled that the ad must not appear again in its current form, and added: "We told Nicolites to ensure they did not claim products were harmless in future in the absence of adequate evidence."

Dr Jean King, Cancer Research UK's director of tobacco control, said that there had been little research into how safe e-cigarettes are. 

"There's also very little regulation to control these products or their marketing. The only way to be sure of any risks or benefits is through rigorous testing", she added.

She also advised that anyone trying to quit smoking should use medicinal nicotine products such as patches, gum or inhalators, because these have been tested and found to be safe and effective.

The ASA ruling comes as another brand of e-cigarettes - E-Lites - are about to be advertised on TV in the UK. Promoters claim their e-cigs are "for the early risers, 9 to 5 workers, and all those all-nighters".

An earlier report raised the issue of safety of some e-cigarettes, with the case of one American man who lost teeth and part of his mouth after the e-cigarette he was smoking exploded in his mouth.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) is looking into whether e-cigarettes should be regulated and will report its findings in the spring of 2013.

Dr King added: "We agree they [e-cigarettes] should be licensed to ensure safety and to make sure the doses are consistent. And it's important they are put under tight restrictions on promotion and marketing to avoid non-smokers being targeted."

Copyright Press Association 2013