Elf Bar vape adverts banned in UK over ‘greener’ recycling claims

29 November 2023

By Sarah Marsh, The Guardian

Ads gave misleading impression that recycling vapes is easy and can be done at home, says watchdog

Adverts for the vaping company Elf Bar have been banned after using the slogan “recycling for a greener future” over concern they were misleading because of the environmental damage of discarded vapes.

A study by Material Focus shows that 260m disposable vapes were thrown away in the UK in 2022, making them a leading cause of the rise in plastic pollution in recent years.

The advert, which was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), gave the impression that recycling vapes was easy and could be done at home. Vaping products cannot generally be home recycled, but rather have to be taken to special facilities such as council-run waste centres.

The ads appeared on buses and digital billboards in London in July and August. They carried images of the Elf Bar 600 V2 vape alongside the words “recycling for a greener future” and “green awareness”. Both were the subject of complaints to the regulator by Adfree Cities and others.

Concern is mounting about the health and environmental harm caused by disposable vapes.

The Scottish government is considering banning single-use products. The UK government has a consultation on smoking and youth vaping that contains provisions including bans on point-of-sale marketing for vape products and the use of child-friendly imagery such as cartoons and bright colours in marketing.

The ASA instructed Elf Bar to ensure that the ads must not appear again in the forms complained of and that future campaigns did not mislead about the environmental impact or benefit of the products.

James Ward, a campaigner at Adfree Cities, called for a total ban on advertising nicotine vapes. “Just as cigarettes scar the bodies of smokers, so has the rise in popularity of disposable vapes left a toxic legacy of plastic and harmful battery metals on our environment,” he said.

“Advertising for nicotine-containing vapes is prohibited on TV, radio, in print and online. That it is permitted on outdoor advertising is a glaring loophole in the law and highlights how outdoor advertising sadly so often provides a willing platform for polluting companies.

“That’s why we’re calling for a universal ban on vape advertising, a measure that will close the existing loophole.”

In its ruling, published on Wednesday, the ASA upheld various complaints. The advert was found to be in breach of eight codes relating to misleading advertising, qualification, environmental claims and substantiation. It also misleadingly highlighted an environmental benefit – offering recycling options – that resulted from a legal obligation that competing products were also subject to.

The ASA said in its ruling: “We acknowledged Elf Bar’s intention was for the ads to educate and encourage consumers to recycle, and that they would be undertaking initiatives that would increase consumers’ ability to do so.

“However, because consumers would understand from the ads that they would be able to recycle Elf Bar’s single-use vapes through a wide variety of routes including by easily accessible routes such as home recycling provisions, when that was not the case, we concluded the ads were misleading.”

Elf Bar said it respected the decision from the ASA and had “taken steps to ensure stricter self-regulation in our advertisements and marketing”.

A spokesperson said: “We are disappointed by any confusion this advertisement may have caused. Furthermore, we regret it has distracted from the progress of our GreenAwareness recycling project … As part of the ongoing programme, we have made our product easier to collect and disassemble for recycling purposes and aim to establish a closed-loop system by 2025. We are committed to these measures and complying with the guidelines set forth by the ASA.”