Bar on embassy aid for tobacco firms

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AMBASSADORS AND British embassy staff are to be told not to support tobacco firms that want help with promoting cigarettes abroad. New Foreign Office guidance, to be sent to British diplomats throughout the world, will instruct them not to help tobacco companies to promote cigarettes, nor to endorse them in any way.

Honorary consuls, ambassadors and other diplomatic staff will be ordered to turn down all invitations to functions and parties held by cigarette firms and to refuse to attend events, such as concerts and horse races, whose main sponsor is a tobacco company. They will now have to check which firms are sponsoring events before attending.

The radical policy shift, effective from 1 June, is designed to prevent embassies and consuls to be seen as promoting cigarettes abroad. Tobacco advertisements in embassy newsletters and help in promoting Foreign Office scholarships are also banned.

The Government has come under fire from anti-smoking campaigners for "hypocrisy" after The ndependent revealed it was helping to boost tobacco products abroad while clamping down on smoking in Britain.

Last year the Government published tough new restrictions on tobacco promotion in Britain. But the Foreign Office had resisted calls to stop giving trade advice to British tobacco firms entering overseas markets. A row over banning tobacco promotion in embassies had erupted between the Department of Health, which favoured a ban, and the Foreign Office, which felt it would not be "fair to discriminate against British companies to the potential advantage of overseas manufacturers".

Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) said the Government's ethical foreign policy has been discredited by support for cigarette manufacturers. The group's director, Clive Bates, said: "There's something obscene about the great and the good of the British diplomatic corps pushing fags to the Third World."

The ban, which also stops government trade advisers abroad from advising tobacco firms about entering new markets, will be announced this week by Frank Dobson, Secretary of State for Health, in a speech to the World Health Organisation in Geneva.