Cigarette firms plot ways round advertising ban

BRITISH TOBACCO companies are planning to sell pensions, credit cards and alcoholic drinks carrying well-known cigarette brand names.

Trademarks for hundreds of products and services have been registered in anticipation of the Government's ban on tobacco advertising, expected to be introduced next year.

Anti-smoking campaigners are increasingly concerned that the new legislation will leave a loophole allowing manufacturers to continue to promote their brands by selling non-related products carrying the same names.

British American Tobacco (BAT) has registered a credit card, beer and whisky under the "Lucky Strike" brand, and Rothmans has declared its intention to market financial services using its familiar name and logo.

Imperial and Gallagher are also registering non-tobacco goods, having faced similar advertising bans in other countries, including Norway and Malaysia.

Over the past year the companies have registered clothing, electrical goods, alcoholic and mineral drinks, footwear, flags, luggage, stationery, model cars and even internet-based travel and restaurant information services.

But one application by BAT, to register the cigarette brand 555 for perfumes, cosmetics and toiletries, is being challenged by Chanel, which fears it will become confused with its Chanel No5 label.

The companies say regist-ering brand names for non-tobacco products will protect them from being used by others, an explanation dismissed by the anti-smoking lobby.

Amanda Sandford, of the campaign group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), said: "They won't want to throw 70 years of brand promotion away just like that.

"They will try to use the brand name, but in a way that's almost subliminal, with things like T-shirts with logos on them, or different products with the same name."

The "brand-stretching" was pioneered by Marlboro with its clothing range. The company sells clothes that maintain its rugged Marlboro Man cowboy image through a chain of clothing stores worldwide.

British companies are now trying to emulate the American giant. BAT is promoting a catalogue shopping service, the "Lucky Strike Originals Collection".

Whether this move by the tobacco companies will be enough to get around the ban is unclear; the Government has said it is committed to tackling smoking as a public health issue. But when the ban becomes law there appears to be a grey area the tobacco companies will try to exploit.

When goods which are non-tobacco products trade under a tobacco brand name, the Government is likely to require companies to make sure that the name is used in a sufficiently distinct manner from the tobacco product, so an advertisement for a non-tobacco product does not promote tobacco at the same time.

If these products have been produced before the ban is enacted they will be allowed to remain - so long as they are sufficiently distinct.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said that the Government would be examining the companies' activities closely.