Tobacco ads face ban by end of year

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN WILL have the toughest tobacco advertising laws in Europe by the end of the year, under proposals published yesterday by the Government.

The planned laws, which tie in with EU directives on tobacco advertising, will outlaw all advertising for tobacco products in newspapers, magazines and on billboards by December 10, almost two years ahead of the deadline set by the European parliament.

However, the tobacco companies warned that the effect of the ban could be to increase smoking. A consultation document published by the Government yesterday says that tobacco firms are likely to react to the ban by cutting prices.

John Carlisle, spokesman for the Tobacco Manufacturer's Association, said there was ample evidence that tobacco consumption was more sensitive to price than to advertising. "If advertising is removed and the only means of competition is on price, then prices may fall. That is the flaw in their argument that banning advertising will reduce consumption. Ironically, consumption could go the other way."

Clive Bates, director of the anti-smoking pressure group Ash, said the ban could spark a price war which might increase consumption. However, the main effect was likely to be a reduction in the price of the premium brands such as Marlboro and Benson and Hedges, to bring them closer to cheaper brands such as Lambert and Butler.

The Department of Health said that research from other countries showed that advertising bans cut consumption. The consultation document predicts that, once all forms of tobacco advertising and sponsorship are banned, consumption will be reduced by 2.5 per cent, saving 3,000 lives a year and pounds 20-40m from NHS bills for treating smokers.

A spokeswoman said: "The tax on tobacco accounts for 85 per cent of its price and the Government has pledged it will go up by 5 per cent above the retail price index every year. Year on year the price of cigarettes is going up, not by a little but by a lot."

There was a general welcome for the move from medical organisations. The ban is timed to take effect on the first anniversary of the tobacco advertising White Paper.

The ban on press and poster advertising will be followed by the phasing out of sports sponsorship by July 2003. However, "global" events highly dependent on tobacco funding, including Formula One motor racing and the World Snooker Championship, will be exempted.

Ministers pledged to monitor attempts by tobacco companies to exploit loopholes in the legislation by advertising on clothing and other products.

Global sports will be granted an extra three years to find alternative sources of income, provided that tobacco advertising and sponsorship at the events falls by at least 20 per cent in each of the three years.

Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Health, said the Government would do all in its power to ensure Formula One and other sports "kicked the habit" of tobacco sponsorship. "It is clear that tobacco advertising and sponsorship persuades thousands of children every year that smoking is glamorous and cool. That has got to stop," she said.

Dr Liam Fox, the Tory health spokesman, criticised the decision to exempt some sports and not others as "illogical" and claimed there was no sign the ban would cut smoking, which was falling among adults and rising among young people. "I simply can't accept the argument that a billboard in the street should be impacting so much more on young people. I think there are better ways to reduce smoking." Cigarette price rises and better health education were important tools, he said. "People should be allowed to make choices for themselves - we should be awfully careful about banning things which the Government is still willing to accept money from."

Four tobacco companies and the German government are challenging the EU directive in court. The Tobacco Manufacturers' Association, accused the Government of a "ministerial stunt" and said it was "extraordinary" that it was bringing in the ban before the court hearing. "The whole ban could be declared illegal in the middle of next year," a spokesman said.

Tobacco Spending

National and regional press pounds 22m

Magazines pounds 8m

Posters pounds 20m

Formula One sponsorship pounds 35m

Other sports sponsorship pounds 8m

Direct marketing pounds 7m

Total pounds 100m

Sources: Dept of Health, and industry estimates