Ministers’ views on banning tobacco advertising: a selection of quotes showing strong support

Monday 18 June 2001

Ministers’ Views on Tobacco Advertising – How they have changed!


26 June 2001


The Government has shelved legislation to ban tobacco advertising,legislation which was a manifesto commitment in both 1997 and 2001. Ministers now say that this legislation has been lost because it is a lower priority than other measures they want to bring in. However, ASH has put together this collection of quotations to show just how far Ministers have changed their tune in the last six months:


The Bill to ban tobacco advertising was introduced in December 2000. Ministers announced the new legislation with great enthusiasm:

“Seven out of 10 smokers say they want to give up. Research shows that an advertising ban could eventually save up to 3,000 lives a year and that the brands most heavily advertised are those are most heavily smoked by children. This bill will implement our manifesto commitment to ban tobacco advertising and sponsorship.” Yvette Cooper MP, Minister for Public Health,

Yvette Cooper, DoH Press Release, 14/12/00. Full text of the release.


This bullishness continued when the legislation was debated in Parliament. The following collection of quotations shows the very high level of energy and commitment given by Ministers to securing Parliamentary approval for the Bill:

 “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.”

Rt Hon Alan Millburn MP, Sec of State for Health – 2nd reading debate, 22/1/01. Hansard text of Debate


“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. I say to the hon. Gentleman in all candour that this Government, unlike the previous one, are determined to do something about it.”

Rt Hon Alan Millburn MP, Sec of State for Health – 2nd reading debate, 22/1/01. Hansard text of Debate


“There is little doubt among informed scientific and medical opinion that tobacco advertising and sponsorship is nothing less than a recruiting sergeant for children and young teenagers to start the tobacco habit, and it is precisely to safeguard these children and generations yet to come that we are introducing the ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship.”

Rt Hon Alan Millburn MP, Sec of State for Health – 2nd reading debate, 22/1/01. Hansard text of Debate


“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.”

Rt Hon Alan Milburn MP, Sec of State for Health – 2nd Reading Debate 22/1/01. Hansard text of debate


“Smoking kills. Advertising and promotion of tobacco products imposes enormous costs on our health service and does enormous harm to the health of our nation. Its effects are felt most acutely in the poorest parts of our country.

We estimate that, in this country alone, a reduction in smoking following an advertising ban such as that proposed could save the NHS up to £40 million a year on treating smoking-related diseases. More importantly, we estimate that 3,000 lives a year will be saved in the UK in the longer term.

The Bill will not prevent individual choice, but it 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”

Yvette Cooper, Minister for Public Health 2nd reading debate,22/01/01. Hansard text of debate


“People have a right to choose to smoke, but smoking is addictive, and they also have aright not to be pressurised by manipulative, seductive advertising into starting to smoke. They have a right not to be bombarded with advertisements and pressures not to give up smoking. “

Yvette Cooper, 3rd Reading debate, 13/2/2001. Text of the Third Reading Debate

“The Government have a comprehensive programme to support smokers who wish to quit. So, why do we also need to legislate on tobacco advertising? There is clear evidence which suggests a link between a ban on advertising and reduced levels of tobacco consumption. There is a link between the promotion of cigarettes and the decisions of young people to start smoking”.

Lord Hunt of King’s Heath, 2nd reading debate (Lords), 28 March 2001. Hansard text of debate


“A comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising is part of the jigsaw that we are putting together to help to reduce the level of smoking in this country and make a dent in the toll of death and ill health caused by tobacco use. Eachyear 120,000 of our fellow citizens die from smoking-related diseases. That causes heartache and misery for many, many more. The Government are determined to tackle this epidemic. I commend the Bill”.

Lord Hunt of King’s Heath, 2nd reading debate (Lords), 28 March 2001. Hansard text of debate

When a General Election was called in May 2001 and the Bill lost, Ministers continued to express commitment to its urgent re-introduction, and placed the blame squarely on the opposition:

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.”

Yvette Cooper, Labour Party Press Release, 11/5/01


Indeed, Government enthusiasm for this legislation, and for tackling the public health consequences of smoking, is nothing new. In 1998. Ministers published the White Paper “Smoking Kills”, in which they pledged to reduce smoking. They also acknowledged the harm caused by smoking:

“In Britain today,more than 120,000 people are going to die over the next year from illnesses directly related to smoking. And the year after that, and the year after that.Unless we all do something.”

Rt. Hon Tony Blair MP,Prime Minister December 1998 – Preface to”Smoking Kills” White Paper


“Smoking kills. That has been known for years. That is why a lot of adults have given up smoking. But the number of adults who smoke has stopped falling. Worse still the number of children who smoke is going up, with more girls than boys taking up this deadly habit.

Smoking is now the principal avoidable cause of premature deaths in the UK. It hits the worst off people hardest of all. It harms people who do not smoke. It harms babies in the womb. That is why the Government is determined to turn things round. We want to help existing smokers quit the habit and help children and young people not to get addicted in the first place”.

Rt Hon Frank Dobson MP, Secretary of State for Health, December 1998: Foreword to”Smoking Kills” White Paper


In Parliament, Ministers have continued to insist for some time that they treat an advertising ban with the highest priority. In November 1999, Public Health Minister Yvette Cooper gave the following answer to a Parliamentary Question.

Mr. Swayne: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what his policy is towards tobacco advertising in the United Kingdom. [98965]

Yvette Cooper: As part of our comprehensive programme against tobacco, we will implement a ban on tobacco advertising in line with Directive 98/43/EC [banning tobacco advertising, which was annulled in 2000] as soon as practicable.


In is extremely unfortunate, to say the least, that Ministers have chosen now to row back from the statements they have been making since they were first elected in 1997.

ASH has written to Alan Milburn, Secretary of State for Health, summarising these Ministerial statements, and urging the Government to reconsider their decision to shelve the ad-ban. See letter to Secretary of State for Health, 18 June 2001