So how are tobacco firms going to advertise e-cigarettes?

A sexy comeback?

It looks like doubles all round: ad agency execs are no doubt rubbing their hands in glee. Christmas may come early this year for some ad execs. Tobacco advertising is making an unexpected comeback. Not a misprint – ciggy firms are already plugging their wares on US television. It really is like going back in time.

This is all to do with e-cigarettes. And this may just be the start. These little electronic gadgets contain a battery and a replaceable cartridge that turn nicotine and other chemicals into vapour inhaled by the user. 

Lorillard, the third-largest US tobacco company and owner of the Newport brand, snapped up Blu e-cigs last year for over $100m. Since October, it has been running TV ads starring actor Steven Dorff: sales are booming. Cue Lorillard’s rivals getting in on the act. Altria – parent company of Philip Morris and owner of the Marlbro brand – is launching its first e-cig.

RJ Reynolds (Camel and Winston are among its killer brands) is to ramp up its e-cig activity via its Vuse product. Reynolds is readying a TV ad campaign to roll out promoting Vuse as early as August. Meantime, British American Tobacco (BAT) - Benson & Hedges, Dunhill and John Player count among its brands - will promote an e-cig branded Vype.

At each firm, there is one common and hugely predictable theme: multi-million pound or dollar marketing budgets. And this is where things may become interesting. Just how will ad creatives promote the latest incarnation of the supposedly safe cigarette?

Then there is the matter of brand ambassadors? In the past, actors such as Ronald Reagan, Bob Hope and Rock Hudson plugged Chesterfield cigarettes; Phil (Sgt Bilko) Silvers was the face of Camel.

In the UK, I recall class ads from early schooldays for Manikin cigars featuring Bond Girl actress and model Caroline Munro. Sheer enjoyment from Manikin, I think ran the tagline. Sheer lechery more like.

Other memorable tobacco ads included Ronnie Corbett and Gregor Fisher: they were at least given some decent scripts (to the accompaniment of Bach’s Air on the G String) to plug Hamlet cigars.

The wonderful George Cole, in his pre-Minder days, was also on a "nice little earner" plugging Benson & Hedges.

Among contemporary actors and celebs who continue to smoke real cigs, who might agencies turn to? Rhianna? Britney? Eva Mendes? Or how about Simon Cowell, regularly snapped with cig in hand?

Agents for other celeb smokers such as Kerry Katona or Jeremy Clarkson may not be in heavy demand but who knows. Courtney Love has been the front-woman in ads for the Njoy brand of e-cigs.

Other possibles might include Kate Moss or better still: Cheryl Cole. I have a vague notion that she has snapped with cig in hand not so long ago. On a more serious point: can tobacco firms – given the mendacious nature of much of its past advertising – be trusted to advertise e-cigs responsibly?

For that matter, concerns remain about certain aspects of these firms recent marketing activity in emerging markets such as China and Indonesia. All of this marketing and M&A activity is gathering steam ahead of any definitive evidence about e-cigarette safety. Research to date – such as there has been - suggests that the vapour emitted by e-cigs is not harmful. It consists largely of water and there seem to be no issues about passive e-cig smoking.

The UK government is still to determine if e-cigs are to be licensed and regulated as an aid to quit smoking. Medical experts have been stepping up their lobbying of government to classify e-cigs as a form of nicotine-replacement therapy. That would mean that the products would be subject to strict checks.

Not so long ago the tobacco industry lobbied and argued and spun ad nauseam that increased regulation and ad restrictions would spell the death knell for the entire industry. They got that wrong; totally, utterly wrong in fact. Tobacco firms have very low amounts of debt and in recent years have offered their shareholders inflation protection and strong dividends. Given their track record of business forecasts, it might be prudent to take with a pinch of salt all that the tobacco sector says about the business prospects for e-cigs.

We may at least see some decent ads though.

Photograph: Getty Images

Douglas Blakey is the editor of Retail Banker International

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Calum Kerr on Governing the Digital Economy

With the publication of the UK Digital Strategy we’ve seen another instalment in the UK Government’s ongoing effort to emphasise its digital credentials.

As the SNP’s Digital Spokesperson, there are moves here that are clearly welcome, especially in the area of skills and a recognition of the need for large scale investment in fibre infrastructure.

But for a government that wants Britain to become the “leading country for people to use digital” it should be doing far more to lead on the field that underpins so much of a prosperous digital economy: personal data.

If you want a picture of how government should not approach personal data, just look at the Concentrix scandal.

Last year my constituency office, like countless others across the country, was inundated by cases from distressed Tax Credit claimants, who found their payments had been stopped for spurious reasons.

This scandal had its roots in the UK’s current patchwork approach to personal data. As a private contractor, Concentrix had bought data on a commercial basis and then used it to try and find undeclared partners living with claimants.

In one particularly absurd case, a woman who lived in housing provided by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation had to resort to using a foodbank during the appeals process in order to prove that she did not live with Joseph Rowntree: the Quaker philanthropist who died in 1925.

In total some 45,000 claimants were affected and 86 per cent of the resulting appeals saw the initial decision overturned.

This shows just how badly things can go wrong if the right regulatory regimes are not in place.

In part this problem is a structural one. Just as the corporate world has elevated IT to board level and is beginning to re-configure the interface between digital skills and the wider workforce, government needs to emulate practices that put technology and innovation right at the heart of the operation.

To fully leverage the benefits of tech in government and to get a world-class data regime in place, we need to establish a set of foundational values about data rights and citizenship.

Sitting on the committee of the Digital Economy Bill, I couldn’t help but notice how the elements relating to data sharing, including with private companies, were rushed through.

The lack of informed consent within the Bill will almost certainly have to be looked at again as the Government moves towards implementing the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

This is an example of why we need democratic oversight and an open conversation, starting from first principles, about how a citizen’s data can be accessed.

Personally, I’d like Scotland and the UK to follow the example of the Republic of Estonia, by placing transparency and the rights of the citizen at the heart of the matter, so that anyone can access the data the government holds on them with ease.

This contrasts with the mentality exposed by the Concentrix scandal: all too often people who come into contact with the state are treated as service users or customers, rather than as citizens.

This paternalistic approach needs to change.  As we begin to move towards the transformative implementation of the internet of things and 5G, trust will be paramount.

Once we have that foundation, we can start to grapple with some of the most pressing and fascinating questions that the information age presents.

We’ll need that trust if we want smart cities that make urban living sustainable using big data, if the potential of AI is to be truly tapped into and if the benefits of digital healthcare are really going to be maximised.

Clearly getting accepted ethical codes of practice in place is of immense significance, but there’s a whole lot more that government could be doing to be proactive in this space.

Last month Denmark appointed the world’s first Digital Ambassador and I think there is a compelling case for an independent Department of Technology working across all government departments.

This kind of levelling-up really needs to be seen as a necessity, because one thing that we can all agree on is that that we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to developing the link between government and the data driven digital economy. 

In January, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the New Statesman convened a discussion on this topic with parliamentarians from each of the three main political parties and other experts.  This article is one of a series from three of the MPs who took part, with an  introduction from James Johns of HPE, Labour MP, Angela Eagle’s view and Conservative MP, Matt Warman’s view

Calum Kerr is SNP Westminster Spokesperson for Digital