Cigarette adverts spared from ban

ANGER is growing among health educators that the Government will miss a golden health-promotion opportunity by refusing to propose banning cigarette advertising in its White Paper Health of the Nation, due to be published on Wednesday.

It will be the first preventive medicine legislation to set targets for health improvement, but it will not tackle cigarette advertising.

The tobacco industry argues that banning advertising does not influence tobacco sales and the Government maintains that its voluntary agreement with the industry is sufficient.

'We have achieved a good record with the tobacco industry and we do not feel it necessary to go down the road of legislation,' a spokesman for the Department of Health said yesterday.

Yesterday Robin Cook, Labour's health spokesman, welcomed efforts to improve public health but criticised the stance on tobacco. 'Smoking causes more premature deaths than any other preventable activity. The litmus test is whether Conservative ministers can forget that Imperial Tobacco gave them 2,000 poster sites in the election - and put the health of the nation before the health of the party,' he said.

A new report from New Zealand in the British Journal of Addiction, published at the weekend, says that advertising bans are effective provided cigarette prices are not allowed to fall in relation to incomes. Referring to 'near flat' downward sales graphs after bans in Nordic countries, it claims 'the falling real price (of cigarettes) and rising incomes were tending to raise consumption, counteracting the advertising ban'.

'A total ban on tobacco advertising is one of the most powerful policy instruments that any government can use to create smoke free and healthier lives for its citizens,' the survey from Wellington, New Zealand, says.

'Although tobacco manufacturers claim otherwise, tobacco advertising bans reduce tobacco consumption below that which it otherwise would have been, assuming other factors remain the same.'

Proposals in the White Paper have been widely leaked. They include setting targets for a reduction in teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, and improved treatment for people suffering from mental ill health.

The total estimated cost to the health services for treating anxiety and depression is pounds 4.6bn, and for schizophrenia pounds 2.7bn. Mental health accounts for 23 per cent of inpatient costs.

The White Paper is expected to seek a reduction in the suicide rate by 25 per cent but not, as anticipated by the Green Paper, to use as a measure of progress a reduction in the number of discharges from mental hospitals.

On sexual health it will seek better sex education in schools and a halving of the number of pregnancies in girls under 16, by 2000. About 8,800 pregnancies a year are in this age group. Half end in abortion.

The White Paper target for smoking will be to reduce from a third to a fifth the number of adults who continue to smoke.

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