Cigarette firms block EU ban on advertising
Tobacco firms are expected to win a legal victory tomorrow, blocking EU moves to ban advertising of cigarettes in Europe. The plan is likely to be annulled by the European Court of Justice after a legal challenge by manufacturers.
The judgment would be a severe blow to health bodies that have fought for decades to have cigarette advertisements and sponsorship banned. But in Britain, ministers are preparing to trump the tobacco companies' victory by introducing a UK Bill banning tobacco advertising, which will be tougher than the stalled EU ban.
The companies, including British American Tobacco, took the EU to court, claiming the directive banning their advertisements had an incorrect legal basis. The firms had thwarted British plans to implement the EU directive last December, ahead of other member states.
But Department of Health sources said the legal victory could prove "a serious own goal" in Britain, because ministers are planning a crackdown on the industry.
They have been working on a Bill for this year's Queen's Speech that will ban tobacco advertising in Britain and restrict the advertising of cigarette brands on clothing and other products.
The ministers are under pressure from health bodies, including the anti-smoking lobby group, Action on Smoking and Health, not to abandon their manifesto commitment to ban the advertising.
"The tobacco companies have used every trick in the book to stop an advertising ban but the Government has to carry out its manifesto commitment," said Clive Bates, the director of Action on Smoking and Health. "Lives depend on it."
But the Conservatives are expected to oppose any Bill banning tobacco advertising. Industry representatives say they have been personally reassured by William Hague that the Tories will not supportgovernment moves to make tobacco advertising and sponsorship illegal, despite earlier indications from Liam Fox, the party's health spokesman, that the Tories may also restrict the actions of the tobacco firms.
The Tobacco Manufacturers' Association (TMA), which represents big cigarette companies such as BAT, said they wanted to start a dialogue with the Government after the announcement by the European Court.
"The Government has slammed the door in our face since it came to power," said John Carlisle of the TMA. "We would like to recommence the meaningful dialogue we had with the last government."
This month, the Government is expected to publish its response to a damning Commons select committee report calling for a clamp on cigarette companies, including a tobacco regulatory authority.
The Government will signal its determination to crack down on the industry. Ministers are also considering calls by the Select Committee on Health for a Department of Trade and Industry inquiry into claims that BAT knew its products were being smuggled.