Last day of tobacco ads – “mourn their passing, but remember the dead…”

Thursday 13 February 2003

This week sees the beginning of the end of tobacco advertising in the UK, as the first stage of the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002, comes into force – the ban starts on Friday, and the last day of tobacco ads is Thursday.  The first stage of the legislation bans most tobacco advertising (for example newspapers and billboards), direct mail, internet advertising and new promotions.  Bans on sponsorship, advertising at the point of sale and ‘brand-stretching’ (the use of non-tobacco products to advertise tobacco) will come in later.  A briefing on the legislation, the timetable for implementation, exceptions and loopholes, and the handling of the internet is available here (pdf).

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

“This is a great moment for public health, a credit to the government and a measure we’ve been campaigning for thirty years. It will save tens of thousands of lives as the attractiveness of cigarettes begins to decline, and the tobacco industry struggles to recruit new smokers to replace the customers that are dying off.”

“Without work of the image-makers to mask the reality, smoking will start to feel banal and ultimately ridiculous.  The advertising and imagery is central to the product – why else would someone think that inhaling toxic addictive fumes from burning dried leaves in paper was sporty, witty or sharp?”

“As street art these ads have been brilliant and visually stunning achievements of creativity, humour and imagination. But the problem is they were done in the service of a predatory industry desperate to seduce teenagers, and keep its existing customers believing in an illusion of elegance, wit and style.  We may mourn the passing of all that stylish and brilliant advertising, but let’s remember the addiction, disease and death that followed in its wake.

But ASH also sounded warnings.  The legislation has loopholes and some unnecessary delays, and some effort will be required to enforce it properly. Clive Bates added:

“The tobacco companies will respond by switching tobacco brands onto non-tobacco products like clothing, accessories or action holidays and the measures to deal with that are weak and delayed for two years.

“There was no justification for making an exception for adverts at the place where tobacco is sold, often sweet shops.  No-one has been able to explain the thinking behind that.

ASH also despaired at the government’s attempt to protect Formula One (again).

“Despite all their commitment to public health, the government still backed Bernie Ecclestone when it came to a European proposal to bring forward the ban on tobacco sponsorship of Formula One from 2006 to 2005. Thankfully, they lost the vote and the new European date has been forced into UK legislation against their will.

Contact: Clive Bates 020 7739 5902 (office) 077 6879 1237 (mobile).  ISDN available.