Rizla ads banned by ASA for suggesting smoking is safe

Keiligh Baker's picture

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned a series of Imperial Tobacco's outdoor ads for 'suggesting smoking is safe' and 'for appealing to under-18s'.

Four issues were investigated, of which two were upheld and two not upheld. The complaints related to two outdoor poster ads and a Facebook post for Rizla rolling papers.

The first poster (a) featured two people dressed as a security safe standing in front of a wall which had the word “SAFE” graffitied on it. On the right-hand side of the ad, there was a pack shot of the rolling papers which had the text “Fold. Tuck. Protect. All New Packaging. Never Settle” above the image.

The second poster (b) featured two people, with cardboard boxes over their heads with drawn-on facial expressions, standing in front of a wall which had the word “Protect” graffitied on it.

A post on Rizla UK’s Facebook page (c) about a competition was also subject to complaints. Text stated “It’s competition time! For a chance to win an amazing pack of Rizla goodies all you need to do is…1) Like our page 2) Comment below and tell us what you love most about Rizla Don’t forget to share this with a friend who loves Rizla as much as you do!” The ad featured an image of Rizla branded products such as a flask, plectrum and badge.

The ASA received four complaints:

  • One complainant challenged whether ad (a) suggested that smoking was safe.
  • Two complainants challenged whether ads (a) and (b) were likely to appeal to under-18s.
  • One complainant challenged whether ad (c) encouraged people to start smoking.
  • One complainant also challenged whether ad (c), which encouraged users to share and like the post, was targeted appropriately.

Imperial Tobacco said had taken care to avoid association with or depiction of smoking in its ads. It added the use of the word 'safe' in the first ad referred to the improvements Rizla had made to its product packaging, and the ad "intended to emphasise that Rizla papers were more likely to be kept physically safe inside the new packaging".

In regards to the appealing to under-18s, the brand said it believed the illustrations, which were designed to depict a helmet and a safe, would not appeal to children as it had clearly used real-life adult models. It said it used graffiti to target adult consumer groups who were urban, creative and expressive.

It also argued the Rizla UK page has an age gate in place, which meant that only Facebook users with a profile age of 18 or above could enter the page or view the content. For this reason, the ASA decided to not take things further over the post.

But the ASA upheld the complaints made about both the outdoor ads. It found issue with the word 'safe' in the first as, due to the context, it felt people would interpret the word 'safe' to suggest it alluded to the practice of smoking, rather than as a reference to the packaging of the new product.

The ASA considered that the use of graffiti in both ads, and the term 'safe' – a slang phrase commonly used by young people – would resonate with under-18s.

An ASA report stated: 'Ads (a) and (b) must not appear again in their current form. We told Rizla to ensure that their ads did not suggest that smoking was safe and not to feature content that was likely to appeal to children under 18.Ads (a) and (b) must not appear again in their current form. We told Rizla to ensure that their ads did not suggest that smoking was safe and not to feature content that was likely to appeal to children under 18.'