Tobacco adverts deal set to miss deadline

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Indy Politics
(First Edition)

The government is facing renewed embarrassment over its opposition to a ban on tobacco advertising.

Ministers had hoped to negotiate a tougher voluntary deal with the tobacco industry in time for the final stages of a backbench Bill next Friday, but Whitehall sources said last night that it was unlikely the talks would meet the deadline.

The Bill, introduced by Labour MP Kevin Barron, seeks to impose a statutory ban on advertising. It is being resisted by Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, although she is committed to reducing cigarette smoking among young people.

Mrs Bottomley is insisting on maintaining a voluntary agreement with the tobacco industry. Brian Mawhinney, the Minister of State for Health, has been negotiating with the industry to tighten the curbs on advertising to head-off support for the Bill.

He has been seeking a voluntary ban on tobacco posters within a one mile radius of schools, bigger health warnings on posters, and a ban on tobacco advertisements in women's magazines. The tobacco industry protested that such a one-mile ban would effectively stop all tobacco advertising in towns and has been engaged in hard bargaining to limit the impact of the curbs.

Ministerial sources said last night that it had been hoped to make an announcement next week in advance of the Report Stage of the Bill. 'We understand that the loose ends have not been tied up, and the talks may not be resolved until after the Report Stage.'

The supporters of the Bill, who include some Tory MPs, will urge the Government not to stand in the way of a statutory ban on advertising and allow the measure to go to the Lords.

The industry has argued that advertising is aimed at persuading smokers to switch brands, rather than winning a new generation of smokers. Dr Mawhinney resisted European restrictions by arguing that raising the price through taxation was a more effective weapon in reducing smoking.

Leaked Cabinet papers disclosed that Mrs Bottomley told colleagues: 'My department's review of the effect of tobacco advertising suggests that further restrictions up to and including a ban could be expected to reduce smoking.'

Ministers were accused of taking a sympathetic attitude to the tobacco industry, because some leading British companies are leading donors of funds to the Conservative Party. One company provided poster sites for the devastating Tory poster campaign at the last election, attacking Labour's 'tax bombshell'.