Politics: Tory MEPs try to block advert ban

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WILLIAM HAGUE was last night accused of failing to rid his party of its "sleazy" links to the tobacco industry after Tory MEPs tried to block the European directive banning tobacco advertising in sport and on billboards.

The claims were made by anti-smoking campaigners on the eve of the publication of a dossier alleging that the tobacco companies covered up the evidence of links between smoking and cancer. The allegations were supported by the public health minister, Tessa Jowell, who negotiated the directive signed this week.

"One of their tactics was to table amendments that would drag out the implementation timescale," she said.

"They knew that many of the decisions which had been negotiated were based on a very fragile consensus with no latitude for renegotiation," said Ms Jowell.

The Tories' tactics of using legal challenges would have postponed the advertising ban until Britain handed over the European Union presidency to the Austrians, who opposed it, thus effectively putting it off indefinitely.

"The Tories' position is very much influenced by their past financial dependence on the tobacco industry. I think that is the principle motivation," said Ms Jowell.

The Tory opposition to the EU directive was underlined by John Maples, the former Shadow health secretary, who said an EU-wide ban on all forms of tobacco advertising was "unnecessary and potentially unworkable". Virginia Bottomley, as health secretary, also opposed it.

Last night Clive Bates, of Action Against Smoking, said: "The Tory MEPs were part of the whole effort by the EPP, the Conservative grouping in the European Parliament, to block it with wrecking amendments.

"It is a very sordid story. We thought that the Tories had cleaned up their act, since cooperating with the tobacco industry in the 1992 election, when they used their hoarding sites for posters. William Hague wanted to rid the Tory party of the corrosive, sleazy odour that haunted the party. It seems they are back in the pockets of the tobacco companies," Mr Bates said.