Government's planned ban on tobacco advertising is blocked

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The Independent Online

The Government's proposed ban on tobacco advertising was blocked in the High Court yesterday, preventing magazine and billboard advertising of cigarettes from being outlawed next month.

The Government's proposed ban on tobacco advertising was blocked in the High Court yesterday, preventing magazine and billboard advertising of cigarettes from being outlawed next month.

The Department of Health, which wants to stop all cigarette promotion in the next three years, was given leave to appeal against the decision. Alan Milburn, the Secretary of State for Health, said the Government was committed to stopping cigarette advertising and he was appalled by the tobacco companies' action. In Britain, 120,000 people die from smoking-related diseases each year.

The tobacco companies Imperial, Gallaher, Rothmans UK and British American Tobacco won an injunction preventing implementation in the UK of the European Tobacco Advertising Directive, pending a ruling from the European Court of Justice on the validity of the directive. The judge, Mr Justice Turner, said it was "strongly arguable" that the companies would succeed in their European court challenge, judgment on which is expected towards the end of next year.

That could make the Government's action unlawful; the Government could then be liable for irrecoverable losses suffered by the companies, as well as for job losses. The companies, backed by the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association,argued that a ban was not urgent, as advertising had no effect on the consumption of tobacco, but only on the choice of brand. The UK was not obliged to implement the ban until July 2001, they said.

Anti-smoking groups and the medical profession were outraged by the decision and said that there was too much public support for an advertising ban for it not to beimplemented as soon as possible. A spokesman for Action on Smoking and Health said tobacco firms will "be forced to accept that [they] cannot change sound policies through spurious legal challenges."

Dr Ian Bogle, chairman of the British Medical Association, said: "The industry has sought to deny the damage caused by tobacco, has exploited every loophole in the old system and, faced with an advertising ban, has again played dirty."