Rizla ads banned for calling smoking products “safe”

The ASA has asked Imperial Tobacco to remove posters for violating the CAP code.

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The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has told Imperial Tobacco to withdraw poster advertisements and a Facebook ad for Rizla cigarette papers after multiple complaints that the adverts described smoking as “safe” and concerns that they were aimed at the young.

The ads featured two people dressed as bank safes standing in front of a wall on which the word “safe” was written in very large letters. Members of the public complained that this suggested that smoking was safe, and that use of the word “safe” to mean “good” indicated that ad was designed to appeal to under-18s.

Imperial Tobacco responded that the adverts were designed to draw attention to new packaging which it says protects the cigarette papers from damage. The ASA, however, concluded that “use of the word ‘safe’ suggested that smoking was safe, and this could encourage people to smoke or increase their consumption”, and that “the term ‘safe’… a slang term commonly used by young people, was associated with youth culture and would resonate with and appeal to people under 18. We also considered that the presentation of two people standing in bold coloured cardboard cut-out objects… were shown in a playful manner and which was likely to appeal to people under 18.”

The ASA also received complaints about adverts for Rizla cigarette papers on Facebook, but these complaints were not upheld.

In 2016 the NHS recorded 77,900 deaths in England as having been attributable to smoking, which remains the UK’s single largest cause of avoidable death and preventable illness.

An advert for Rizla cigarette papers was banned in 2003 after the ASA found that it condoned smoking cannabis, and in 2014 the ASA banned Smoke Spots, an app and a website created by Imperial Tobacco that drew complaints from members of the public and Cancer Research UK and which the ASA found to be “harmful and irresponsible”.

Will Dunn is managing editor of the New Statesman.