Influencers and freebies: Big Tobacco’s push to sell nicotine pouches in UK

by Anna Munhin Jul 30, 2023 News
Influencers and freebies: Big Tobacco’s push to sell nicotine pouches in UK

Tobacco companies are using a loophole in the law to promote flavoured nicotine pouches as a fun and glamorous lifestyle product.

The Observer has found that the pouches of nicotine hidden under the lip are being promoted in social media campaigns.

Thousands of free samples are handed out by companies in order to attract new customers.

The pouches are marketed as a trendy lifestyle product, rather than as a smoking alternative, because they are largely unregulated.

Nicotine products can't be sold to people under the age of 21 in the US and companies can't give out free samples. Nicotine pouches were banned in the Netherlands.

Unlike e-cigarettes, which can be sold to people under the age of 18 in the UK, they are not classified as tobacco related products. The disposable pouches, which come in various strengths and in flavours such as watermelon, strawberry and mint, can be advertised legally on social media.

The statutory restrictions on price promotions, celebrity endorsements and content that goes beyond factual information are not explicitly banned by the advertising watchdog.

Despite the looser rules, nicotine pouch companies in the UK say their marketing is responsible and they never target under-18s. The pouches, which do not contain tobacco, are a less risky alternative to smoking.

Observer analysis shows that the products are being promoted in glamorous marketing campaigns that seem to be aimed at younger audiences, just as the UK government launches a ban on e-cigarettes.

British American Tobacco often works with young British people on social media to promote its brands. The company hosted a party with a DJ in March. Attendees, including London rappers in their 20s, later posted event videos on the social networking site.

A cool-looking young woman with close-cropped blonde hair winks and smiles while giving the peace sign

A photo from the Velo website: firms also use young influencers to try to associate their products with good times. Photograph: Velo Website

The company claims to have a large share of the UK nicotine pouch market. At the Tomorrowland festival in Belgium and the British Grand Prix, several people posted clips of themselves dancing, drinking and posing with nicotine pouches.

Japan Tobacco International has invested a lot in the UK. The company has partnerships with 12 festivals to promote its Nordic spirit pouch.

Are you ready for the summer? Well, that's right. One ad posted by a festival partner says to never miss a moment. The prize draws give away free bar tabs and tickets.

The professors at the University of Bristol said the companies were advertising fun. The stuff says that this is a lot of fun. She said it created a positive feeling about the product.

She said that some of the people featured in the ads looked young, but that the ads were within the rules. Is the regulations right? It is possible that they are not.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which tracks advertising by tobacco firms and shared its research with the Observer, said that firms were positioning nicotine pouches as trendy lifestyle brands but that the marketing was falling through the cracks. We are seeing something that is out of place. She said that this product is addictive.

Action on Smoking and Health said the marketing was straight out of the tobacco industry's past practices.

Some online retailers have used questionable marketing tactics. The Observer has found that websites are selling unofficial products modeled on popular brands. There are many deals that are advertised.

Some of the unofficial products have more nicotine in them than mainstream brands. Extreme versions with 50mg per pouch are available on one website.

Nicotine pouch regulation needs to be brought in line with other nicotine products.

UK sales are modest despite the investment in marketing. The category is growing, with the total market worth more than 50 million dollars.

Two smiling young women in a converted open-top camper van painted in blue and white Nordic Spirit livery with logos

A promotional stand for Nordic Spirit pouches at Vaper Expo in Birmingham last year. Photograph: John Keeble/Getty Images

Dr Leonie Brose, reader in nicotine research at King's College London, said that while some manufacturers put "18+" on their packaging and ads, retailers don't need to ask for ID. She stated that it was a loophole.

The government is aware of the issue. Concerns about the current regulatory framework were raised in a report prepared last year by the Committee on Toxicity into nicotine pouches.

The policy lead for addiction at the Association of Directors of Public Health called for tighter regulation.

Children and young people are vulnerable due to the unregulated products.

The Department of Health did not have any plans to regulate further. While there are no plans to regulate nicotine pouches any further, we will continue to keep a close eye on this.

The approach seems to be at odds with the strategy for tackling youth vaping, which is currently the focus of a government campaign. There is a ban on flavours and bright packaging

In April, Sunak criticized e-cigarette firms that used advertisements and flavours that appeal to children. He said these are things that shouldn't be happening.

The Observer flagged several ads for review by the Advertising Standards Authority. Nicotine pouch ads must be socially responsible but not directly targeted at children because the products are not age restricted by law. The issue was being reviewed.

Several posts promoting the two companies were live this weekend, despite the suggestion that the ads went against its policy. "We don't allow ads or branded content that promotes tobacco-related products and we'll remove content that breaks our rules."

BAT said that it only worked with people over the age of 25 with a majority of followers over the age of 18. It said that they have called on the UK government to regulate nicotine pouches.

Nordic Spirit was only marketed to adult smokers and nicotine consumers and was only used in situations when smoking or vaping is not possible.

It said that it doesn't work with people under 25 and that it only uses social platforms where 75% of the audience are over 18. It said that it was committed to the principle that children shouldn't use nicotine products.