Arts world takes sides with tobacco kings

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The Independent Online
Government plans to ban cigarette advertising and sponsorship face an unexpected setback tonight when 1,000 key figures in the arts will meet to praise the makers of Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut cigarettes as "good corporate citizens" and patrons of the arts.

The Government will be told that if the Gallaher Group, which manufactures both brands, has to cease its advertising and sponsorship activity, it will be gravely damaging to the arts. And the future of one orchestra would be in jeopardy.

The Gallaher Group, based in Northern Ireland, has provided pounds 1m of sponsorship to the Ulster Orchestra. The orchestra is a flagship of the arts in Northern Ireland, and the sponsorship money is crucial to its survival. To add to the irony of the cultural elite arguing for cigarette companies and against the Government, the award will be presented to the Gallaher Group by the left-wing actress Vanessa Redgrave.

The remarkable decision of the arts lobby to act as defenders of the cigarette companies comes as the Government reaffirmed its intention to ban all tobacco advertising.

Tessa Jowell, the Public Health Minister, said yesterday that the Government was pressing ahead with a statutory ban on tobacco advertising.

She said on BBC TV's On The Record that she would not advocate a US-style ban on smoking in public places, even though she had introduced a private member's Bill to that effect when in opposition. Instead, she argued that a combination of voluntary agreements and an end to tobacco advertising could be as effective. "You only legislate when it is absolutely clear you can't achieve what you want to achieve by voluntary means," she said, "and that point has not yet been reached in relation to smoking in public places. It has been reached in relation to tobacco advertising."

However, the Government will face a sharp rebuff at an arts award ceremony tonight attended by representatives from all the principal institutions including the National Theatre, RSC, orchestras, opera companies, museums and galleries.

The main award is presented by the Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts to the best arts sponsors in the UK. Colin Tweedy, director of ABSA, who is a Labour supporter and highly regarded by the Government, will tell the award ceremony at the Globe Theatre that the Government's policy would curtail Gallaher's sponsorship activity as well as its advertising.

He will say: "Gallaher has been an outstanding example of a good corporate citizen investing in the cultural life of the community in which it operates. "A blanket ban on sponsorship of this type would be a grave mistake...British businesses invest pounds 80m each year in support of the arts, and while tobacco sponsorship is just a small part of this, an erosion of this funding base could seriously undermine the viability of our arts and culture."

The findings of a survey among children by the Health Education Authority this week will fuel the Government's case for banning tobacco poster and media advertising and sponsorship. More than 50 per cent of young children surveyed still believe they have seen cigarettes advertised on television in spite of a ban being in place, according to figures to be released by the HEA.

Ms Jowell said advertising on television was covered by a voluntary ban, but most young people thought they had seen advertising because of sponsorship of sporting events, which was not banned. The Government will also public within weeks a white paper on improving public health.