Third advert from Japan Tobacco International ruled misleading

In collaboration with the Press Association

The Gallaher Group, a subsidiary of Japan Tobacco International (JTI), made misleading claims about plain tobacco packaging, according to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

It is the third time this year the ASA has upheld a complaint against JTI over unsubstantiated and misleading claims regarding plain cigarette packaging.

The ruling was made in response to objections by Cancer Research UK. As a result, the misleading regional press ad regarding the Government's plain pack consultation on cigarette packs must not appear again in its current form.

The ad was part of a multimillion-pound campaign opposing the idea of putting all tobacco products in plain, standardised packs of uniform size, shape and design, as suggested during a Government consultation exercise.

Research suggests that sophisticated tobacco packaging encourages young people to smoke and distracts them from health messages about the dangers of smoking.

In the latest ad under the headline 'How do you spot a fake pack of cigarettes?' the company said that "19 per cent of independent shopkeepers in London are considering closure as a direct result of the illegal tobacco trade".

The claim made no mention of the effects of 'cross-border shopping' on trade - people legitimately buying tobacco overseas for consumption in the UK - and was based on results from a survey of members belonging to a group funded by the tobacco industry, not shopkeepers as a whole.

Gallaher admitted that the figure used in the ad was taken from a survey conducted by the Tobacco Retailers Alliance (TRA), which it conceded represented a minority of independent shopkeepers selling tobacco in the UK.

And the data was based on responses from a mere 109 London shopkeepers, all of whom were TRA members.

The ASA ruling stated: "We understood that the claim was based on the results of a TRA survey amongst its members who were asked whether they were considering closing down as a result of the effects of smuggling or cross-border shopping on tobacco sales. We noted that the results of that survey indicated that 19 per cent of those asked were considering closing down for those reasons.

"However, we considered that the claim stated the reason for considering closing down was 'as a direct result of the illegal tobacco trade' and no mention was given to the effects of cross-border shopping. We noted Gallaher's argument that that was unlikely to materially mislead readers, but we disagreed. We considered that the omission was significant and therefore the claim misrepresented the results of the survey."

The ASA also "noted that only independent shopkeepers who were TRA members were asked their views" and felt these "might not have been representative of the views of independent shopkeepers in London as a whole".

Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK's head of tobacco policy, said:

"JTI has repeatedly linked the introduction of standardised packs for tobacco products with illicit tobacco trade, previously claiming the 'black market was booming', when HM Revenue & Customs figures show that the illicit cigarette market has more than halved in a decade.

She also said that the Trading Standards Institute, senior police officers and European Anti-Smuggling officials have all been clear that claims linking standard packs and the illicit tobacco trade "do not make sense", and that a recent cross-party parliamentary report echoed these conclusions.

"Standard packs are about giving the 207,000 children who start smoking every year in the UK one less reason to start an addiction that will kill half of its long-term users. That's a fact that can't be ignored," she added.

Cancer Research UK lodged two objections to the JTI adverts. A second objection - to the use of the statistic that 23.3 per cent of the cigarettes smoked in London have not had UK taxes paid - was not upheld.

Copyright Press Association 2013