Intended for healthcare professionals


Europe agrees complete ban on tobacco advertising by 2006

BMJ 1997; 315 doi: (Published 13 December 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;315:1559
  1. Rory Watson
  1. Brussels

    All tobacco advertising in the European Union will be gradually scaled down from 2001 and banned completely five years later under a landmark agreement reached by European Union health ministers last week.

    Although many antitobacco organisations would have liked the new legislation to have been even stricter (it allows several temporary exemptions) and to have come fully into force earlier, they have still welcomed the breakthrough in the long running negotiations. “Obviously we would have much preferred a shorter time scale,” said Andrew Hayes, EU liaison officer for the Association of European Cancer Leagues. “However, it has taken several years to get this far, without knowing that the directive would be implemented.”

    The agreement, which ended almost six years of stalemate between EU governments, was a personal triumph for the social affairs commissioner, Padraig Flynn, himself a former smoker. “We can now look forward to the day when advertising and sponsorship of tobacco products will not be able to influence young people to take up the habit,” he said.

    In addition to the implications for public health, the new legislation is seen as essential to ensure that the single market—one of the EU's fundamental objectives—is not put at risk by differing national rules on tobacco advertising and sponsorship.

    The chances of an agreement arose earlier this year with the change of government in Britain and the new Labour administration's commitment to a ban on tobacco advertising. It was also strengthened by a similar change of heart in Greece, where the government placed health concerns ahead of the interests of its large tobacco producing constituency. And days before the EU's move, Belgium banned tobacco advertising.

    Despite the opposition of the German and Austrian governments and the abstention of Spain and Denmark, the agreement is now set to be finally endorsed by the European parliament. Member states will then have three years to put it on the statute books.

    There will be a further one year for phasing out advertising in the printed media and two years for phasing out sponsorship. Largely because of British insistence and with Formula One motor racing in mind, there will be a further three years (up to 2006) during which it will be possible for tobacco companies to sponsor world level events and activities, provided that the sums involved decrease from one year to the next.

    The new legislation will still allow advertising inside shops and at points of sale for cigarettes and cigars and will permit tobacco trade publications and the import of publications from outside the EU that contain tobacco advertising. Individual EU governments may also introduce stronger national legislation.

    Research by the International Union Against Cancer suggests that advertising bans do affect tobacco consumption. It examined four bans introduced between 1975 and 1993 in Norway, Finland, New Zealand, and France and calculated that per capita consumption in the various countries had fallen by between 14% and 37%. The World Health Organisation confirms that tobacco is the single greatest cause of preventable disease and death. In the EU alone, 91% of lung cancers in men are caused by tobacco smoke and over 500000 deaths are related to tobacco annually.

    The measures have been strongly criticised by the tobacco industry, which had lobbied long and hard against the legislation.


    Health ministers Tessa Jowell (UK) and Bernard Kouchner (France)


    View Abstract