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Advertising watchdog upholds complaints against Elf Bar's misleading 'green' vape ads

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled in favour of complaints stating that advertisements by the vape producer Elf Bar earlier this year were misleading.

Vape adsThe regulatory authority banned the adverts, determining that they inaccurately represented the environmental advantages and the restricted recycling options of the products.

Placed in London throughout the Summer on billboards and buses, the ads displayed the tagline “recycling for a greener future” accompanied by statements about “GreenAwareness” and the recycling symbol.

Ten complaints were made in response to the adverts – including from Imperial Tobacco and Adfree Cities – arguing that they were misleading consumers regarding the limited recycling opportunities and environmental benefits of the products.

The advertisement was also challenged on the basis that it "highlighted an environmental benefit that resulted from a legal obligation to which competing products were also subject."

Vape recycling in the UK

The ruling from the ASA arrives following wide-ranging concerns over the disposal of vapes – research from Material Focus indicated that the number of disposable vapes thrown out each week sits at 5 million, a fourfold increase from 2022.

Accordingly, the Local Government Association (LGA) has called for a ban on single-use vape products with the Scottish Government currently considering the same.

Elf Bar told the ASA – citing the research from Material Focus in 2023 – that 70 per cent of consumers threw out their used vapes due to not knowing they were recyclable. The company therefore claimed the intended messaging of the ‘GreenAwareness’ campaign was to inform customers that their vapes are recyclable and encourage them to engage with recycling.

The company claimed that its messaging of “recycling for a greener future” did not signify an absolute claim about the widespread recyclability of vapes or that its products are more environmentally friendly than its competitors.

They claimed that single-use vapes were recyclable at various locations, such as supermarkets, certain vape shops, and officially sanctioned recycling centres, emphasising that these outlets were extensive and easily accessible to consumers. At the time the ads were published, 70 vape shops had dedicated Elf Bar recycling points.

As a result of the claims the ASA ruled that “the ads must not appear again in the forms complained of.” It also told the company to “ensure their future ads made the basis of environmental claims clear, and did not mislead as to the environmental impact or benefit of their products.”

Justifying the ruling, the ASA added: “We acknowledged ELFBAR’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 ELFBAR’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.”

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