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Tobacco firms fight ad ban

MINISTERS ARE preparing emergency legislation to ban tobacco advertising in order to thwart an unexpected legal challenge in the High Court by tobacco firms, writes Marie Woolf.

The Government is committed to a ban from December but the cigarette companies are attempting to block this by the exploitation of legal loopholes. The planned legislation will allow the ban regardless of the High Court ruling.

Britain's biggest tobacco firms have hired lawyers to take the Department of Health and Department of Trade and Industry to court. They will argue that the Government's proposed ban is illegal because there is a case pending at the European Court of Justice on the legality of the EU move to ban tobacco advertising and sponsorship.

"The draft UK regulations have been hastily put together with no proper consideration of the European Court of Justice's current deliberations, nor of the commercial realities of the situation," said John Carlisle, director of public affairs for the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association.

The Government is planning a rearguard action to try to salvage the situation if the tobacco companies succeed in their High Court battle.

Anti-smoking groups accused the tobacco firms of using their financial muscle to try to influence government policy.

"It is a measure of the stunning arrogance of the tobacco companies that they think they can call a stop to government laws," said Clive Bates, director of the anti-smoking group Ash. "They have more money than God and because they can't spend it on advertising they spend it on lawyers."