Euro MPs force pace in tobacco ad curbs row

The European Parliament is set to demand a much quicker end to tobacco advertising and sponsorship than under the timetable agreed last week by EU health ministers.

The European Parliament is set to demand a much quicker end to

tobacco advertising and sponsorship than under the timetable agreed last

week by EU health ministers.



Labour Euro MPs are threatening to defy Tony Blair by voting down the

controversial eight-year exemption for Formula One racing. They are also

angry that poster companies would be given three years and the press

four years to phase out the ads after the EU directive is finally

approved next year.



After nine years of debate, ministers hailed their ’historic agreement’

on a European-wide ban at talks in Brussels last Thursday.



But this week leading Labour figures in the European Parliament, where

the socialists are the largest group, said the parliament looked certain

to exercise its right to amend the proposed directive.



Ken Collins, who chairs the parliament’s Environmental Committee,

predicted that Euro MPs would not accept the ’loose timetable’ agreed by

ministers.



’The parliament may try to eliminate the transition periods or go for a

much reduced transition period. Parliament’s view will probably be that

there is far too much flexibility in the common position. In the end it

is a fairly weak compromise,’ he said.



Uncertainty over the future of tobacco promotion increased further when

the German Government and the British tobacco industry both threatened

legal action to try to overturn the ministers’ decision.



Germany claims the ad ban should have been left to member states to

decide, while tobacco companies believe the directive may breach the

’freedom of expression’ guaranteed by the European Convention on Human

Rights.



The Tobacco Manufacturers Association fears that a last-minute addition

to the directive, outlawing ’any form of commercial communication’

promoting a tobacco product, may kill off direct mail. The European

Commission and the British Government softened their line against direct

marketing last month but, the TMA claims, sought to hit it hard again

after being criticised for letting Formula One escape an immediate

ban.



Andrew Brown, the director-general of Britain’s Advertising Association,

said the ad community would be sympathetic to a legal challenge. He also

warned that any delay in Europe-wide legislation could result in the UK

implementing its own ad ban.



’The UK Government is relying on European action because it doesn’t take

up parliamentary time,’ he commented. ’But if the European route is

threatened, it will look to domestic legislation.’



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