EDITORIAL: Poor advice sends EU ban up in smoke

Our governing bodies seem to have been getting some duff legal advice lately. First, there's the case of the National Lottery not realising that it would be unfair to make Richard Branson's People's Lottery the sole bidder for the lottery licence.

Our governing bodies seem to have been getting some duff legal advice lately. First, there's the case of the National Lottery not realising that it would be unfair to make Richard Branson's People's Lottery the sole bidder for the lottery licence.

While the resultant legal scramble is of nail-biting significance to J. Walter Thompson, whose new-business billings will soar if the People's Lottery does secure the contract, and WCRS, whose billings will take a nose-dive if Camelot fails, its impact on the rest of the industry is pretty negligible.

However, the duff legal advice the European Union received when it thought it could make the tobacco advertising ban a single market measure is of greater significance to the industry. An estimated pounds 50 million is spent annually in the UK on tobacco ads, while a further pounds 200 million is estimated to be spent on the Continent.

The Advertising Association and the tobacco lobbyists can now fold their arms in smug satisfaction. Single market measures require unanimous backing from all member states: the ban on tobacco advertising only had majority support. Political arrogance and the belief that it was acting for the common good led the EU to think it could fudge it. Not so, said the European Court of Justice as it overturned the ban last week.

The decision is merely delaying the inevitable. The EU will simply have to come up with a new tack. Some predict that the UK Government may patch together a piece of primary legislation to get the UK ban back on track, but most agree that last week's legal decision will buy the agencies and the advertisers a few more years.

But another ray of hope, though rather faint, also arose last week. Peter Ainsworth, the shadow culture secretary, hinted at a fringe meeting hosted by the AA at the Conservative Party Conference in Bournemouth that should the Tories get in, the advertising industry could expect the current regulatory vice to slacken. Hitting out against the EU, the Government and 'interfering busybodies', he said a Tory government would be more appreciative of what advertising does for the economy.