PERSPECTIVE: Blair’s early ban on tobacco ads is spin first, health second

By CAROLINE MARSHALL, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 28 May 1999 12:00AM

This week’s news that the Government is to speed up the implementation of the European Union’s ban on tobacco advertising will have brought a smile to the lips of spin doctors everywhere.

This week’s news that the Government is to speed up the

implementation of the European Union’s ban on tobacco advertising will

have brought a smile to the lips of spin doctors everywhere.



With impeccable timing, it follows the release last week of statistics

revealing that Britain has one of the worst cancer survival rates in the

developed world. Be French if you want the best chance of surviving lung

cancer, be Swiss if you want to live after breast cancer, be Austrian if

you have stomach cancer. Whatever you do, just don’t be British, because

we’re at the bottom of the league along with Estonia and Poland.



Does the Government react by allocating extra money beyond the pounds 21

billion for the NHS announced in last year’s spending review? Does it

address the fact that Britain spends less than any equivalent Western

country on cancer medicines? (Britain spent pounds 1.01 per head in the

year to March 1998, while Germany spent pounds 2.31 and the US pounds

4.93.) Does it listen to the Cancer Research Campaign’s call for an

extra pounds 70 million to be spent on drugs and treatments for the

disease? No, it keeps the Treasury purse firmly shut, identifies a

headline opportunity and opts to outlaw tobacco advertising seven months

earlier than it had previously announced, by December this year.



There are three effects of this use of advertising for what might be

called ’gesture politics’. The first, as reported opposite, is that the

Tobacco Manufacturers Association has hired M&C Saatchi to stage a

fightback.



The second is that the poster industry has a right to be sore; it had,

after all, been promised time to prepare for the total ban.



The third is that the debate will switch to the issue of below-the-line

promotion. The tobacco manufacturers are already putting their marketing

budgets behind direct mail, product extensions, websites and branded

clothing.



That process will accelerate and it is here that M&C may find its

efforts most needed, for it must know it is on to a loser regarding the

advertising issue.



Acknowledging that the ethical argument is running against tobacco

advertising, it is Campaign’s duty to reflect all shades of opinion in

this most contentious debate.



The industry bodies that champion the line that if a product can be sold

legally it should also be legal to advertise will be dismayed.



Those agencies that do not undertake tobacco advertising as a matter of

principle - the two obvious names are Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and

Bartle Bogle Hegarty - will be cheering.



And spin doctors everywhere will salute another great piece of Blairite

PR. Why, you could almost forget that the Government had ever drawn fire

for abandoning its manifesto commitment to ban Formula One sponsorship

by tobacco companies, couldn’t you?



caroline.marshall@haynet.com



Stefano Hatfield is away.



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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