Ministers pave way for tobacco ads ban
Tobacco advertising in the press, on billboards and on the internet is likely to be banned this summer, following a government decision to back a private bill launched by a Liberal Democrat peer.
Ministers will delight anti-smoking campaigners and promote their public health credentials by finding time in the Commons for legislation proposed by Lord Clement-Jones when it clears the Lords next month.
New controls will also give the government greater controls over point-of-sale advertising and put Britain in line with 16 other European countries over direct tobacco promotion.
The rules will be similar to those orginally proposed by the government but legislation was not completed because of last year's election and ministers did not include a bill for their own parliamentary programme.
Unofficial negotiations have been under way between Lord Clement-Jones, who introduced a private bill in the Lords, and the Department of Health.
He is expecting some amendments but said:"With the assistance of colleagues on the government front benches we think we shall not have to concede very much."
The government would not confirm its support last night, but the bill is expected to complete its Lords stages on March 8.
It is understood that ministers will stick to giving motor racing exemption from any tobacco sponsorship ban until 2006.
Labour faced one of its most embarrassing moments when it was revealed that the formula one racing chief Bernie Ecclestone had given a Â£1m donation before the 1997 election which it later returned.
The tobacco industry spends an estimated Â£130m on advertising and promotion in the UK, 10 times the amount spent by the government on anti-smoking advertising.
News that ministers support Lord Clement-Jones's bill coincides with World Health Organisation demands for a tougher international stance against tobacco companies, following exposure of industry tactics by whistleblowers and in secret documents.
The latest attempt to tighten the noose on manufacturers will be made at a European conference for a tobacco-free Europe, to be held in Warsaw next week.
The WHO is concerned that the number of smokers across Europe is still growing because of aggressive marketing by companies, with decreases in western countries being offset by rises in the former communist bloc.
There has been little success in recent years in cutting smoking rates in young people across the continent, including Britain, where 24% of boys aged 15 and 16 smoke, as do 28% of girls of the same age.
Yvette Cooper, the health minister, who is to attend the conference, said last night that smoking caused 120,000 deaths a year in the UK and cost the NHS Â£1.7bn annually. "This is not an issue on which any country can operate alone," she said.
"We work closely with our EU partners to strengthen community law on tobacco regualtion and advertising and we will continue to work with them, and , at an international level, with WHO, to tackle the smoking epidemic at a global level."
The WHO says documents revealed by lawsuits and former employees provide evidence from within the industry of "over 50 years of manipulating science, politics and the mass media in pursuit of profit".
Roberto Bertollini, director of technical support at WHO's regional office for Europe, said significant progress had been made in anti-smoking measures in many countries, thus putting the tobacco industry on the defensive.
But he added: "On the other hand, the industry is stepping up its efforts to reengineer itself, expand its markets, recruit new smokers and promote the social acceptability of smoking."