Letter to Alan Milburn, Secretary of State for Health: ASH expresses case for reversing delays to the advertising ban

Monday 18 June 2001


Rt.Hon Alan Milburn MP

Secretary of State for Health

Richmond House

79 Whitehall




Dea rMr Milburn


Re: reported delay to the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill


I am writing following reports in the press that the Government is planning not to reintroduce the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill in Wednesday’s Queen’s Speech. As you can imagine, we were shocked by these reports and, if they are true, I hope the government will reconsider.


The Bill has been in both election-winning manifestos and has already completed most of its parliamentary scrutiny. When it fell at the election, we helped to ensure the government was not criticised, but on the assumption the Bill would be re-introduced quickly after the election. Now I feel we may have been too generous.


Although there will always be competing demands for parliamentary time, this Bill should have priority, both on account of how long it has been promised and the importance of the measure as a life-saver.  Time should also be allowed for inevitable blocking challenges from the tobacco industry.   The government accepts that 3,000 lives a year will be saved in the long term from banning tobacco advertising. A delay of 18 months in introducing this legislation would mean that an additional 4,500 people woulddie unnecessarily due to smoking in the years to come.


It is difficult to see how such a delay can sit comfortably alongside the strong and credible position you and other Health Ministers have taken in the last year. During the debate on the Second Reading of the Bill in January of this year, you said:


“We honour the commitments that we have made. The Bill will ban tobacco advertising and sponsorship in this country. It will do so to protect public health, to safeguard children and to reduce health inequalities.” (Hansard 22/1/01)


“It is not an exaggeration to say that tobacco smoking is the biggest public health problem that the country faces. It is literally a public health disaster. […] This Government, unlike the previous one, are determined to do something about it.”  (Hansard, 22/1/01)


You also gave short shrift to Opposition delaying tactics, stressing the urgency of your action:


“The Tories ask for evidence [that advertising encourages people to smoke]. It screams out to them from the billboards across the country: advertising works, smoking kills. Where the previous Government failed to act, this Government will now do so. We will act to protect children; we will act to reduce smoking; we will act to save lives.”  (2nd Reading Debate 22/1/01)


In the same debate, Yvette Cooper argued that the government would square up to the tobacco industry on behalf of the nation’s children:


“…it (the Bill) will prevent the tobacco industry from using its mighty financial muscle to advertise and promote a product that kills. For the sake of the children who will be tomorrow’s victims of lung cancer, coronary heart disease and other diseases, I commend the Bill” (Hansard, 22/1/01)


In a Labour Party press release, Yvette Cooper undertook that Labour would reintroduce this Bill, with the clear implication that this would be done quickly, saying:


The majority of the British people, doctors and health professionals all want to see this ban in place. It is the Tories and the tobacco industry who have done everything they can to block this.” (Labour Party Release, 11/5/01)


These statements, and many others, accurately capture the essence of tobacco advertising and make an eloquent case for its abolition without delay. They certainly offer no justification for delay or decommitment.  Many people have asked what is behind this,and I can offer no explanation ­ it certainly does not make for good politics or policy.


I hope that Ministers will restore the Bill to the Queen’s Speech and take it through Parliament with some urgency. If there are changes in the government’s attitude to public health and the 1998 tobacco White Paper, Smoking Kills, I would welcome a chance to discuss this with you and to understand better the government’s new perspective.


I am copying this letter to Yvette Cooper, and to the Prime Minister’s office.


Yours sincerely

Clive Bates



Attached Ministers’ views on tobacco advertising ­a selection of quotes