Doctors, health professionals and consumer organisations said attention should be focused on the real reason for banning tobacco advertising - the disease and death caused by smoking.
Yesterday the organisations, including the British Medical Association, the Cancer Research Campaign, the National Asthma Campaign and the largest advertising agency Abbot Mead Vickers, launched a report setting out the need for robust legislation.
The report, Tobacco Advertising, Sponsorship and Promotion: The Case for a Comprehensive Ban, claims that failure to introduce water-tight legislation will create loopholes and lead to more inventive forms of tobacco promotion.
Campaigners will meet with the Prime Minister next week to put forward their case. They will argue that the real debate has become buried in the political controversy following the Government's decision to exempt Formula One from the proposed European Union Directive.
Dr Sandy Macara, the BMA's chairman, said: "The Government has been Schumachered and it must now get back on track. This report makes an irrefutable case for robust legislation. Anything less than a total ban will be exploited by the tobacco industry - the merchants of death."
Evidence in the report of the harmful effects of smoking includes a survey showing that 80 per cent of asthma sufferers say smoking aggravates attacks. Yet 1.5 million children with asthma live with smokers.
It also sets out clear evidence that children, in particular, respond to cigarette advertising. Adrian Vickers, deputy chairman of Abbott Mead Vickers, said: "Cigarette advertising sends a secondary, much more sinister, message. It is saying that cigarette smoking is OK. A part ban on tobacco advertising would leave this effect of advertising untouched."
He added that a comprehensive ban is the only option, otherwise tobacco manufacturers would use other methods such as direct marketing, gifts or clothes to promote cigarettes.
The Government's own figures estimate tobacco related illnesses cost the economy pounds 1.7bn every year and, despite health education campaigns, smoking still kills 330 people every day.
Smoking levels are increasing among children and a recent survey showed the number of adults smoking increased in 1996, for the first time in 25 years.
Dr John Toy, director of clinical programmes for the Cancer Research Campaign, claims the Government cannot afford to make compromises on the tobacco advertising ban.
"The Government cannot continue to ignore the facts - especially on child smoking," he said. "Strong action now will keep today's children out of the cancer wards of tomorrow. Half-baked measure like the compromise on Formula 1 will ensure that the government makes the most important mistake that any government has made on tobacco for the past 20 years."
The Government has come under repeated attack following its decision to exempt Formula One from the ban on tobacco advertising in return for a voluntary agreement to reduce the visibility of tobacco advertising at events.
The European directive on banning tobacco advertising in sport will be discussed at a Council of Health Ministers' meeting in Brussels on 4 December. The BMA is concerned that confusion surrounding the exemption could mean the EU Directive fails completely.
Dr Macara said: "Our European partners may be unwilling to accept the Government's new position. The Government must do all in its powers to ensure that the directive is accepted at the ... meeting."
If the directive fails the whole of Europe will hold the UK responsible, he added.Reuse content