Tobacco companies start legal action over shop advertising

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The Independent Online

Six tobacco companies, including British American Tobacco, Gallaher and Imperial Tobacco, yesterday began High Court proceedings against the Government after it tightened up advertising restrictions in shops.

Shops were the only remaining places where tobacco companies could promote their products after the Government introduced an advertising ban in February last year.

But last month, the Government put forward new regulations to restrict advertising in shops even further.

Tobacco companies had hoped they could have A4-sized adverts in shops, but under the revised law put to Parliament in March, the adverts must be no bigger than A5 paper - half the size originally planned. A health warning, in bold black type surrounded by a thick black border, must account for 30 per cent of the advert and only one advert per retail outlet is allowed.

"We consider the regulations are disproportionate and illegal," Tim Lord, the chief executive of the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association, said yesterday. "They contain unreasonable restrictions on providing information at point of sale and will inhibit competition."

The companies have asked for a judicial review of the new regulations, claiming that they prevent the industry from having "any form of meaningful or effective communication with adult smokers and will not allow smokers to receive a reasonable level of information about the products before they buy.

They also argue that the restrictions, which also cover the content of the advertisements, violate their freedom of commercial speech and will give undue benefit to existing brands that are already well-known in the market place.

Philip Morris, Seita and Cherwell Tobacco are also part of the court action.

Mr Lord says the group of tobacco companies had been forced into legal action after talks with the Department of Health over the issue of retail advertising broke down.

Tobacco companies also face the threat of a public smoking ban. Ireland recently banned smoking in public places, mirroring moves in some US states, and many campaigners want to see a similar policy introduced in Britain.