Health campaigners have attacked the new raft of e-cigarette ads for making smoking seem sexy.

Tobacco ads have been banned for years, but new law changes have allowed e-cigarette brands to run TV and billboard ads as they are deemed less harmful to health.

Producer VIP started a TV ad campaign this week.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of anti-smoking charity Ash, said: “Vaping is safer than smoking but it’s not harmless and e-cigarettes should only be promoted to smokers.

“These ads sexualise e-cigarette use and do not make clear that these products are not for a general audience but are aimed at smokers.

“Ash doesn’t see how these ads conform to the new advertising rules and if they do, then we are seriously concerned that the rules are not fit for purpose.

“Responsible advertising of e-cigarettes has its place, but this isn’t what we’d call responsible advertising.”

Her criticism comes as another brand, Neo, saw its poster ads banned for blurring the lines between vaping and tobacco smoking.

New rules published by the Committees of Advertising Practice came into effect this week, allowing e-cigarettes to be shown in ads across UK media, but campaigns are banned from appealing to youths or promoting any link with tobacco products.

Twenty-three people complained to the advertising watchdog about the Neo ad, which showed an image of a woman using an e-cigarette and blowing vapour into a man’s face. 

The ASA upheld the complaints and said: “We considered that the main focus of the ad was the smoke and, in combination with the headline text, the image created a strong association with traditional tobacco smoking. Therefore, we had concerns that many of those who saw the ad, especially children, would mistakenly believe that the product was a tobacco cigarette.

“Because we considered the ad did not make sufficiently clear that the product was an e-cigarette and, by appropriating the imagery of tobacco smoking and presenting it in a positive light, indirectly promoted tobacco smoking, we concluded that it was irresponsible.”

It ruled the ad could not appear again in its current form.

Another anti-smoking charity, Fresh, also slammed the new e-cigarette advertising. 

Acting director Lisa Surtees said: “We are concerned that this new advert [the VIP television ad] could make these products appealing to children and teenagers under 18, and also to non-smokers, as it is so sexualised and loaded with innuendo.

“There’s no evidence to suggest that electronic cigarettes are acting as a gateway for young people to smoke. The vast majority of vapers are current or former smokers using them to cut down tobacco or quit, but we have to be vigilant and ensure advertisers don’t try to equate them with attractiveness.

“Manufacturers should be promoting their products responsibly.”

Two versions of the ad will run after the watershed over the next five weeks.

Dave Levin, co-founder of VIP, said: “We aren’t afraid to provoke a debate about e-cigarettes. They are part of our society and we’re offering our customers a healthier alternative to smoking.”