News of yet another hiccup in the Government's intended
introduction of a tobacco advertising ban is becoming as mundane as
stories of small earthquakes in Chile.
Unlike slight South American tremors, however, smoking kills people.
Lots of them. And doubtless there will be much impotent rage about
what's happening to the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill and
charges that the delay in translating it into law may have consigned up
to 3,000 people to an early grave.
Lack of Parliamentary time in the run-up to the election is blamed for
the latest hold-up. If Labour wins, it will have to repeat the whole
rigmarole of guiding the bill through the Commons and the Lords with no
prospect of it reaching the statute book before December.
But while this latest glitch can be blamed on an overcrowded Government
programme, it does raise the question of whether Labour still has the
will to see it through.
What once seemed to be a simple initiative to ban all tobacco promotion
has proved to be nothing of the kind.
A recent outcry by internet service providers at Draconian regulations
which would have held them responsible for tobacco ads on the web is
just one example of how difficult it is to introduce fair and effective
A ban on tobacco ads - just like a ban on foxhunting - is proving to be
a bit of Labour dogma that sounds worthy enough in theory but full of
The more pragmatic and open-minded members of the Labour administration
probably know this although the high emotion which accompanies any
debate about smoking may prevent them speaking out.
No matter that had Walter Raleigh discovered tobacco today, he would
have been banned from either making cigarettes or promoting them. The
situation has to be confronted as it is, not as those involved would
like it to be. Actually, there's scant evidence that tobacco ad bans
reduce consumption and may fuel price wars which tempt more young people
to take up the habit.
Nor is it very productive for the Government to have made the tobacco
industry persona non grata. Cigarette companies may have a reputation
for mendacity but they have valid concerns which ministers ought to
If ministers really want a ban, then they must stop turning deaf ears
and procrastinating - or else we might start thinking that their hearts
aren't in it.