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First 'cigarette' ad in nearly 50 years will air on British TV tonight thanks to e-cigs

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A commercial showing someone "smoking" will air on British TV for the first time in nearly 50 years tonight following regulation changes that have cleared the way for the depiction of e-cigarette use. The ad, run by a company called VIP, briefly shows a woman exhaling vapor and promotes both its e-cigarettes and e-liquids. It'll air on ITV1, shortly after 9PM local time. "Vaping has never been shown on a TV advert in the UK before, so this is a first for the country and I’m sure it will be a real conversation starter!" Dave Levin, VIP co-founder says in a statement.

"Our commitment is to make sure they are advertised in a responsible way."

The UK banned the advertisement of cigarettes back in 1965. It's still been possible to advertise e-cigarettes before now, but there was still a ban on actually depicting the device or the act of smoking. Now, both are able to be depicted, albeit subject to a number of restrictions. That includes bans from making ads that appeal to anyone under 18, banning the depiction of anyone who is or appears to be younger than 25, and banning the encouragement of any non-smokers to begin using an e-cig.

"We’ve moved quickly to put in place appropriate and clear regulation around e-cigarette advertising," Shahriar Coupal, director of the UK's Committee of Advertising Practice, says in a statement. "While the debate about e-cigarettes continues our commitment is to make sure they are advertised in a responsible way and that children are protected." This rule change doesn't just apply to TV ads: they will apply across other forms of media in the UK too. After one year, the agency will conduct a review of the rules and their effect on the public.

There's been an ongoing debate around the benefits and harms of e-cigs, with major health organizations announcing various levels of support and opposition. The World Health Organization has called for a ban on indoor use of e-cigs and fruity flavors — much like the bans on traditional cigarettes — while the American Heart Association believes that e-cigs are a good way to help people quit. There's not quite a consensus yet on the health impact of vaping.

VIP intends to continue airing the ad, in both 10- and 20-second versions, over the next five weeks. They'll all air later in the evening, when content that's deemed inappropriate for kids is allowed to be shown. The allowing these ads actually go into effect today, so VIP is getting into e-cig advertising as soon as possible. It isn't really hiding that its interest is, in part, in stirring up controversy around that too. Levin says, "It will be interesting to see how people respond to our advert’s debut this evening."

Correction: smoking a cigar could still be shown in British TV ads until 1991. This article previously stated that all smoking was included in the 1965 cigarette ad ban.