ASA Ruling on K. Williams & Others v. British American Tobacco

Based on several consumer complaints, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) evaluated a series of billboard, press, and radio ads from British American Tobacco (BAT) South Africa that warned of the dangers of buying illegal cigarettes. For example, one ad showed a woman being hijacked with the words “Danger: people who buy illegal cigarettes possibly help hijackers and robbers.” The ASA found that the ads had violated the country’s Code of Advertising Practice because (1) they were misleading (based on an unproven linkage between illegal cigarettes and violent crime) and (2) they were likely to cause unjustified fear and distress to viewers. The ASA ordered BAT to withdraw the advertising campaign and not to use the ads in the current form again. The ASA dismissed the complaint that the advertising was offensive and said it did not have the authority to rule on the legality of the ads. Instead complaints about illegal tobacco advertising should be made to the agency responsible for enforcing the Tobacco Products Control Act.