EDITORIAL: Is Tony's bill liable to go up in smoke?

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

legislation.



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

unexpected pitfalls.



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

hear.



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.



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