Labour and the Tories are set for a new clash over tobacco
advertising after confidential Cabinet documents revealed that three
ministers in John Major’s Government had privately backed a total
The documents - leaked to the pressure group, Action on Smoking and
Health, and seen by Campaign - disclose a Cabinet battle in which
Michael Heseltine, William Waldegrave and John Gummer all demanded an
end to tobacco promotion.
But Virginia Bottomley, the then Health Secretary, resisted their calls
and won the Cabinet’s backing for her plan to tighten up the
Government’s voluntary code for the tobacco industry.
Labour MPs will now cite the leaked documents in an attempt to undermine
Tory attacks on the Blair Government’s plans to adopt the European Union
directive on outlawing tobacco ads. Regulations implementing the ban
will be put before Parliament in the next few months.
The secret papers, which will embarrass the Conservatives, show that
Heseltine argued there was ’an inconsistency’ in the Major Government’s
policy of defending tobacco advertising while trying to curb
Heseltine, then president of the Board of Trade, told the Cabinet in a
letter: ’An outright ban instead of some half-way house of severely
constrained advertising is the credible way forward.’
He was ’surprised’ at Bottomley’s refusal to ban ads, given her
admission that further voluntary controls would ’save lives’. Heseltine
said he was persuaded by the medical evidence, acknowledged by
Bottomley, that a ban on tobacco ads would reduce smoking, improve
people’s health and avoid the ’damaging economic burdens which the
consequences of ill health place on business’.
Gummer, then Environment Secretary, told the Cabinet: ’If the Government
wants to be seen to be serious about reducing the prevalence of smoking
and improving people’s health, the right course of action would be to go
for an outright ban on tobacco advertising.’