Tobacco Advertising: Activists upset by compromise over displays: Celia Hall hears reaction to the new code that the tobacco industry has agreed with the Government

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THE Government's new deal with the tobacco industry, designed to limit the power of cigarette advertising, was dismissed as cynical and pathetic by the health lobbies yesterday.

The five-year pact, announced after Kevin Barron's Private Member's Bill to ban advertising outright was talked out yesterday afternoon, was quickly condemned by doctors' and nurses' leaders and by Ash, the anti-smoking campaign.

Ash leaders pledged to continue seeking further means of securing a full ban and would 'scrutinise' all new parliamentary Bills to see where an amendment could be submitted.

The director of Ash, David Pollock, said that the 'great majority' of new clauses had been drafted by the tobacco industry.

One of the provisions of the deal seeks to remove 'permanent' shopfront advertising - but the industry has until the end of 1996 to do so. Another increases the space given to health warning on advertisements, but only by 2.5 per cent - from 17.5 per cent to 20 per cent.

A main point in the new agreement says the industry must reduce its spending on advertising by 40 per cent. An industry spokesman said this would reduce the budget from ' pounds 15m to pounds 20m to about pounds 12m by the end of 1995'.

A further measure says that posters must be more than 200m from school entrances. Independent research says that this will affect 15 per cent of the billboards, an indication that the industry has targeted young people.

The Royal College of Nursing said the new package was a tacit recognition that cigarette advertising works and is persuasive.

Christine Hancock, general secretary executive of the RCN, said: 'Instead of moving step by grudging step down the road, the Government should have the courage to do what is right and outlaw tobacco advertising altogether.'

One rule in the tobacco industry agreement will stop computer games - particularly motor racing games - from showing 'trackside' cigarette billboards.

'The fact that they are prepared to agree this small ban on computer games is as clear an indication as you can get that advertising works with young people. The agreement is appalling and cynical,' Ms Hancock said.

Dr Andrew Vallance-Owen, head of policy and research at the British Medical Association, said it was a 'fig-leaf' which merely sanctioned tobacco advertising while pretending to control it.

'None of the measures in this new agreement will give a clear and unequivocal message to young people that smoking is dangerous and should not be taken up,' he said.

Steve Woodward, deputy director of Ash, added: 'You have to look carefully at every word in this agreement. The word 'permanent' relating to shopfront displays will not stop short campaigns; the deadline of the end of 1996 is permission for the industry to delay and delay and delay the action; and altering the size of health warnings is marginal fiddling.'

A measure to increase the size of health-warning lettering was spoiled because the 'clutter' of words diluted the impact, he said.