No clear guidance on pouch marketing in Europe, so advertisers should be cautious

Rules on how companies can market nicotine pouches in Europe are no clearer, but criticisms of practices have started and are only going to increase.

What can and cannot be done in major European markets remains murky. For example, in the UK, guidance from 2022 says companies do not have to adhere to tobacco product restrictions in marketing nicotine pouches since they do not contain tobacco.

Instead, authorities ask pouch brands to abide by a sort of gentleman’s agreement to advertise pouches “in a responsible manner” because nicotine is an addictive substance.

Beyond that, the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) simply said it “will maintain [its] intelligence gathering in terms of new trends in the e-cig and tobacco product markets, and help support marketers in ensuring that their ads for such products comply with the advertising rules”.


Freedom in marketing pouches, up to a point


Our request for any update to guidance from the ASA was not answered before publication. And examining case studies does not provide a whole lot more clarity.

Japan Tobacco International (JTI) UK ran into issues with ads for its Nordic Spirit pouches in 2021. The ad challenged showed a group of people about to play a video game together and taking pouches to get ready. JTI said it had used actors who looked over 25 and that gaming was predominantly an adult activity in the UK (a counterintuitive statement for which the synopsis provided no backing evidence).

However, in upholding part of the complaint, the ASA said that the combination of the depiction of players using the product as they were about to start the game, the sense of anticipation created by music building to a drop, and the gamers’ reactions of excitement all worked to associate the use of the product with the game, implying that pouches had a mood-altering and stimulant effect that would enhance enjoyment and gameplay.

This, in the ASA’s opinion, was irresponsible marketing and therefore in violation of the gentleman’s agreement part of the code.

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    So, clearly in the UK companies can do more with marketing pouches than they can with marketing vapour products (a somewhat unfair division, but that is another story), but the extent of what can be done remains undefined.


    Are pouches to be the next nicotine fall guy?


    Some further indication of limitations in other European markets can be inferred from recent activity in Italy. But again, clear rules on what can be done for pouches are hard to find. A recent case on heated tobacco suggests that pouches should – at an absolute minimum – contain nicotine content warnings and should be products for adult use only. But what else exactly applies to pouches needs to be clarified.

    It is likely the marketing of pouches will become a bigger issue soon enough. French authorities previously complained about the use of influencers in the marketing and advertising of pouch products as well as the use of flavours to attract young users.

    These concerns – from last year – mirror recent criticisms coming out of the US that in turn generated their own criticisms for being over the top. Whether the comments from US Democratic senator Chuck Schumer were justified is almost irrelevant.

    Whilst there does appear to be a surprising amount of grassroots support for pouch products in the US, a seed has been planted in much the same way seeds of mistrust in Juul were sown at the start of the panic over youth vaping.

    Expect this mistrust of pouches to grow and spread. They are much more closely tied to Big Tobacco than vaping ever was (not that this seemed to matter much in the course of the rising vaping hysteria), and it will not take much of an incident for pouches to become the new scapegoat of the nicotine prohibitionist movement. How pouches are marketed between now and then will do much to shape the coming discourse.

    – Freddie Dawson TobaccoIntelligence staff

    Photo: Bruce Mars

    Freddie Dawson

    Senior news editor
    Freddie studied at King’s College, London and City University and worked for publications including The Times, The Malay Mail, PathfinderBuzz and Solar Summary before joining the ECigIntelligence team. He has extensive experience in covering fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), manufacturing and technological innovation.