British TV Criticized For Airing E-Cigarette Commercial

The first commercial for electronic cigarettes has aired on British TV screens. Some medical authorities fear it is sending the wrong message. Five decades ago, cigarette ads were banned in Britain.

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And the first commercial for an e-cigarette has aired on British television - five decades after ads for real cigarettes were banned there.Vicki Barker reports.

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VICKI BARKER, BYLINE: The ad shows two fit, attractive 20-somethings running through a darkened cityscape, leaping into the future on a cloud of vapor.

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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Pure satisfaction for smokers: Vype e-cigarettes - experience the breakthrough.

BARKER: British American Tobacco, or BAT, plans to run the ad 300 times over the next few months. It's a lucrative market: more than a million British smokers are believed to have switched to e-cigarettes, and right now there are no restrictions on their sale.

But the British Medical Association's Vivian Nathanson fears the ad is trying to get a whole new generation of young people hooked on nicotine.

VIVIAN NATHANSON: What this is doing is making the use of nicotine look attractive, socially-successful and all of those things, which we used to see associated with cigarette smoking.

BARKER: Chris Snowden says e-cigarettes helped him quit smoking. Snowden works for a free market think tank. And he says, keep this market free.

CHRIS SNOWDEN: A study came out in the Lancet last year showing that e-cigarettes are effective in helping some people give up - at least as effective as the nicotine patches and gums which are allowed to be advertised on TV. So I think you need a very good reason if you're going to ban any form of advertising on television.

BARKER: BAT told The New York Times it's trying to be appropriate and responsible in the absence of clear guidelines on e-cigarette advertising. Those guidelines may yet be clarified: British regulators say they will begin consultations within weeks.

For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London.

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