The negotiations with the tobacco companies follow a promise by Brian Mawhinney, the Minister of State for Health, at the time of a debate last month on a Private Member's Bill last month that would ban tobacco advertising. The Bill, introduced by Kevin Barron, Labour MP for Rother Valley, was given a Second Reading after a day- long debate, but in the face of opposition from the Government is virtually certain to fail at a later stage.
Mr Mawhinney said in the debate on 11 February that over the past 20 years voluntary restraint had squeezed out a large part of the reduction in smoking that a ban was likely to produce. But he promised that he would negotiate with the industry to strengthen controls, particularly focusing on adverts which reached 11 to 15-year-olds.
He hinted that the Government would be using the threat of an advertising ban implied by the Private Member's Bill to persuade tobacco companies to accept stronger curbs.
Sources in the advertising industry said last night that they vehemently opposed the suggestion to ban posters within a mile of schools. If the ban covered a 400- metre radius of schools it would remove half the poster sites; if it was 1,000 metres, it would include 85 per cent of sites; a one-mile radius would amount to a total ban.
One alternative to a restriction on poster advertising would be a more explicit health warning on cigarette packets and on advertisements, or a ban on advertising in magazines. Cigarette advertisements have been banned on television since the 1960s.
Proposing his Bill, Mr Barron said a total advertising ban would cut smoking-related deaths by between 4,400 and 9,900 deaths a year. While regular smoking among adults had fallen from 35 per cent in 1982 to 28 per cent in 1992, the figure for 15-year-olds fell by only 1 per cent in that time, to 23 per cent.
Mr Mawhinney said last night: 'All negotiations with the industry are in confidence.'