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Tobacco companies win delay on advertising ban

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.319.7219.1218 (Published 06 November 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:1218
  1. Linda Beecham
  1. BMJ

    Tobacco companies in the United Kingdom have succeeded in delaying the ban on tobacco advertisements on billboards and in newspapers and magazines, which was due to start on 10 December.

    The companies—Imperial, Gallaher, Rothmans UK, and British American Tobacco—challenged the validity of the European directive on tobacco advertising, and their challenge has been upheld in the High Court by Mr Justice Turner.

    The court decided that the government had acted hastily in not waiting for a ruling from the European court. The directive was agreed by the European Union in July 1998, and in June 1999 the UK government brought in regulations to implement the directive two years ahead of the EU timetable (26 June, p 1716)

    The secretary of state for health, Alan Milburn, said that he was disappointed at the decision and that the government would appeal against the judgment. If the appeal fails, Britain will have to wait until the European court rules on the validity of the directive at the end of 2000.

    Mr Milburn said: “The tobacco companies will stop at nothing to undermine the advertising ban, which will make our nation healthier. Banning tobacco advertising is a vital step towards cutting cancer and heart disease.

    I am appalled that the tobacco companies are trying to undermine a clear manifesto commitment for which there is such widespread public support.”

    The chairman of the BMA's council, Dr Ian Bogle, said: “The tobacco industry is desperate to hang on to its ability to promote death, disease, and disability. Its attempt to frustrate efforts to protect children and young people from the lure of advertising is entirely consistent with its behaviour throughout the past 40 years.”

    A spokeswoman from Action on Smoking and Health said: “Given the overwhelming political and public support for a ban, the industry will be forced to accept that it cannot change sound policies through spurious legal challenges.”

    The public affairs director of the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association, John Carlisle, said that the judge had upheld the rule of law and the government had been shown to have acted hastily. “But we are still willing to talk to the government and continue the voluntary agreement we have with them on advertising.”

    Labour MPs are considering introducing a private member's bill to ban tobacco advertising. Kevin Barron, MP for Rother Valley, said: “We will not be defeated by the industry's attempt to sabotage the tobacco advertising regulations.”

    • The Republic of Ireland's health department is to ban all tobacco advertising in national newspapers from June 2000. The ban was originally to have been phased in from that date to meet the EU deadline of July 2001 but has been broughtforward.

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