EU advertising directive has huge loophole – ASH lukewarm

Monday 02 December 2002

ASH news release:  Immediate release…  2 December 2002
ASH’s reaction to a new European Union directive on tobacco advertising was at best “lukewarm” – arguing that the measure has a giant loophole and may compromise national legislation by inviting challenges against stronger measures agreed nationally.  The directive bans ‘direct’ tobacco advertising on radio, printed publications, internet and international sponsorship – but it doesn’t ban ‘indirect advertising’ – for example Camel boots, Marlboro Classics clothing, Luck Strike Originals etc.

Clive Bates, Director of the anti-tobacco campaigning group ASH said:

If you leave the tobacco companies the option to advertise cigarette brands using boots, clothing adventure sports or other non-tobacco products then that is what they will do. The budgets will just shift into this type of promotion and spending will be just as high as ever.

“We’re not just making the perfect the enemy of the good”, said Bates, “the main effect of this directive will be to force a change of the type of advertising we see, but it is unlikely actually to reduce it that much.”

“The directive ” is disfigured by it failure to respect the evidence that shows that for tobacco advertising bans have to be comprehensive and complete if they are going to be effective.”

ASH said there was a serious need for good legislation to stop tobacco advertising in an increasingly borderless world.  In a letter to Health Minister’s last week, ASH warned of the power of the internet as a promotional space and gave examples of how tobacco marketing on the internet is taking off.

Bates added:

“We know they have legal problems doing this under the EU treaties, but we are still disappointed the measure doesn’t go far enough and may not be effective at all – these cross-border media are an important growth area for tobacco promotion and we need effective measures to tackle the menace in an increasingly borderless world.  But we need watertight measures, not gestures.”

The UK government claims it voted against the directive because of the weakness of the text, and found itself aligned with Germany which thought the text went to far – they did not form a blocking minority. The UK has just introduced a powerful Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act (2002) which will ban most forms of domestic advertising from 14 February 2003, domestic sponsorships from July 2003.  The new directive creates a conflict for the UK over international sponsorship (for example Formula One) – the government’s position follow is to allow that to continue until October 2006, but the new directive specifies July 2005.  That is another plausible explanation for Britain’s vote against.

The purpose of the European Union directive would be to complement the strong UK legislation by tackling advertising that originates in other member states. To address this issue at a world level a Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is under negotiation under the auspices of the World Health Organisation.  The next round of negotiations is in February and the Convention should be ready for signing in May 2003.

Notes and links:

[1] For more on tobacco advertising and promotion: ASH advertising resources

Contact: Clive Bates 020 7739 5902 (w) 077 6879 1237 (m) ISDN available