Tobacco advertising: a three-pipe problem: A three-pipe problem - that's what Sherlock Holmes called his most taxing mysteries. And that, on the eve of a Private Member's Bill, is what Nicholas Timmins calls the Government's attitude to a ban

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Tobacco kills 110,000 people a year.

In 1965 the Labour government banned TV advertising of cigarettes; in 1991 the Conservative government banned TV advertising of cigars; successive governments have demanded that all other advertisements carry health warnings that get ever bigger.

The Government funds not one, not two, but at least four quangos to encourage people to give up tobacco - and then spends millions more running its own advertising campaigns against it.

The Government is so caring about its people's health that it sets itself targets - to cut the number of adults who smoke by one third within a few years; and to cut by a third the proportion of 11-to 15-year-olds who smoke.

The Government has given itself the goal of cutting the amount of tobacco consumed by 40 per cent by the year 2000.

THE GOVERNMENT WILL NOT BAN TOBACCO ADVERTISING

The Government has promised to raise tobacco prices every year by 3 per cent in real terms.

The Government urges parents, teachers, school governors, employers, retailers, publicans and restaurateurs to make their work places and homes smoke-free zones.

The Government is committed to encouraging children not to start using tobacco (children are the one group who seem determined not to give it up).

The Government is sufficiently worried by the advertising of tobacco to believe that further restrictions are needed, particularly to reduce the impact of advertising on children.

The Chief Economic Adviser at the Department of Health was commissioned to study whether an advertising ban would reduce smoking.

That study concluded that a ban would indeed have 'a significant effect'. And while the precise scale of the likely effect is not clear, the study implies a 4 to 9 per cent cut in consumption.

THE GOVERNMENT WILL NOT BAN TOBACCO ADVERTISING

Michael Heseltine has concluded that a ban is needed. As President of the Board of Trade, Mr Heseltine might be expected to oppose such a move.

Mr Heseltine has told the Prime Minister, in a Cabinet memo leaked last week, that an advertising ban would cut the product's use, improve people's health, and save lives.

Mr Heseltine says that an advertising ban would help to 'avoid the damaging economic burdens which the consequnces of ill-health place upon business'. It would, he says, make the Government's commitment to

its anti-smoking targets 'credible'.

Mr Heseltine further points out that there does 'seem to be an inconsistency in a policy which continues to defend tobacco advertising even in a restricted form with a policy designed to reduce smoking

further . . .'

THE GOVERNMENT WILL NOT BAN TOBACCO ADVERTISING

Dr Brian Mawhinney, Minister of Health, has privately long favoured a ban.

Tomorrow he will argue the Government's case against Kevin Barron's Private Member's Bill to ban tobacco

advertising.

At the end of the debate, having arged against the Bill, he will abstain.

Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, has said that each 1 per cent cut in the prevalence of smoking will in time save 1,100 deaths a year.

In Cabinet Mrs Bottomley put the case against an advertising ban.

Mrs Bottomley explained to her colleagues that the tobacco industry would have to be confronted with the clear threat of an advertising ban before it would make any further concessions over advertising.

Mrs Bottomley is not expected to be in Parliament to vote at the end of the debate on Barron's Bill.

WHAT'S AFOOT, MY DEAR WATSON?

Tobacco duty and VAT bring in pounds 8bn a year. They are the Chancellor's third biggest single source of revenue. The Government might disapprove of smoking, but it is hooked on the cash flow. The Government is hooked, but not completely hooked. The whole Cabinet, Kenneth Clarke included, has signed up to the goal of cutting consumption by 40 per cent by the year 2000.

The tobacco industry spends some pounds 100m annually on advertising and sponsorship. Money like that buys its own friends. Sports and arts sponsorship may be only pounds 8m - but it brings many friends who are worried about losing their loot. The Advertising Association has, of course, not been idle in protecting itself, either.

Tory party funds benefit from tobacco. Hanson, which owns Imperial Tobacco, donated pounds 100,000 in 1992, along with pounds 15,000 to the Centre for Policy Studies, the Tory think-tank. Rothmans gave the Conservatives the same.

At the 1992 general election, Imperial donated 2,000 valuable poster sites to the Tories - specifically, Peter Middleton, the company's sales director was quoted as saying, because the Conservatives 'are against the EC's proposed advertising ban on tobacco goods, while the other parties are not'.

Kenneth Baker, the former home secretary and Tory party chairman, is listed in the register of MPs' interests as a non-executive director of Hanson. He is the most prominent of the handful of MPs directly or indirectly linked to the tobacco industry - but they are only a handful.

The industry runs an effective lobby, lunching, meeting, bombarding with literature. It has more resources than its foes, the doctors - working through heart and cancer charities and the medical royal colleges, whose activities are constrained by charity law - can muster.

THE GOVERNMENT WILL NOT BAN TOBACCO ADVERTISING

To say it was all down to money and influence would be far too crude. It is also about ideology. Virginia Bottomley, on the party's left, is keeping in with the party's right. Banning tobacco advertising would be 'a significant interference with commercial freedom,' she told the Cabinet in the paper leaked last week. Commercial freedom is a principle which should not 'be passed over lightly'. Today tobacco, tomorrow who knows what? However, she went on, the Government cannot guarantee itself a Commons majority on the issue.

SO THERE, MY DEAR WATSON, YOU HAVE IT

(Photographs omitted)

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