Claims on the website www.nicolitesonline.co.uk, for electronic cigarettes, included "Although the vapour inhaled and exhaled when using Nicolite resembles smoke, it's simply a completely harmless vapour. The vapour has no odour and does not linger the way tobacco smoke does. So there's no danger of passive smoking posed to those around 'vapers,' as e-cig users are called. It's the tobacco that's harmful, not the nicotine, which is mildly addictive but poses no health hazard …".
The complainant challenged whether the website misleadingly claimed that the product was not harmful and whether that could be substantiated.
Nicolitesonline.co.uk (Nicolites) said the ingredients in their liquid, which was heated to create a vapour, were tested in the UK and had been subject to a toxicology risk assessment to confirm that all of the ingredients were safe and the vapour caused no harm. They said a full safety report had also been conducted on the safety of the inhaled aerosol and it was concluded that "it was very safe relative to cigarettes and also safe in absolute terms on all measurements we have applied". Nicolites said there was a long history of research conducted on nicotine and, while there was no doubt that it was addictive, studies had shown that nicotine itself was not the cause of smoking related illnesses. One study on the long-term effects of nicotine concluded "our study does not indicate any harmful effect of nicotine when given in its pure form by inhalation". They said the same pharmaceutical grade nicotine that was used in products such as nicotine patches, gum and inhalators was used in their electronic cigarettes and they could therefore claim that the nicotine would pose no health hazard, in the same way that other nicotine delivery products would not. Nicolites submitted an abstract of the study on the effects of nicotine as well as the safety report and toxicology risk assessment.
The ASA noted the evidence Nicolites submitted, which took the form of literature reviews or references to individual ingredients in the product and also made reference to studies involving animals. Although we did not see any studies in their entirety, we noted one of the documents referred to a trial related to vaporising propylene glycol and children but were concerned about the small scale of the study, the fact it was not on the target audience of the claims, which we presumed to be adults, as well as about whether the ingredient tested reflected the make-up of the advertised product itself. It was also unclear whether the inhalation method used reflected that users of the product would experience. In addition, we noted the toxicology risk assessment, which also did not take the form of a controlled clinical trial, concluded that the e-cigarette was unlikely to pose a risk to health over and above that of cigarettes. We considered, however, the implication of the ad, via claims such as "it's simply a completely harmless vapour" and "poses no health hazard …" was that the product would pose no risks to health at all. For the reasons given, we considered the claims that the product was not harmful had not been substantiated and we therefore concluded that the ad was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 (Substantiation).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Nicolites to ensure they did not claim products were harmless in future in the absence of adequate evidence.