OPINION: Threat of ad ban to spur rush of tobacco brands

Gallaher may be the first cigarette manufacturer to launch a brand in the face of an impending ban on tobacco advertising, but it’s unlikely to be the last.

Gallaher may be the first cigarette manufacturer to launch a brand in

the face of an impending ban on tobacco advertising, but it’s unlikely

to be the last.



Like General Custer at Little Big Horn, the tobacco companies may be

about to face their last stand as significant advertisers. The scramble

is on to establish new brands in important growth sectors before a

possible clampdown renders such activity almost impossible.



It’s a safe bet that the guardians of the ad industry would never have

chosen tobacco as the cause celebre in the fight to safeguard commercial

freedom of speech. There are many within the ad industry itself who

question whether the fact that cigarettes are legally on sale is

justification enough for promoting them.



The tobacco companies look increasingly beleaguered. They may try to

bypass the emotional arguments by enlisting the support of the European

courts to defend their rights. But even a victory in the courts may

prove no more than a pyrrhic one. The legal system only has credibility

if it commands widespread support. Tobacco advertising could prove

counter-productive if it is sustained by legal protection, rather than

public approval.



For those charged with looking after advertising’s interests, the

tobacco issue is a huge dilemma. Should they defend what a large

proportion of the population regard as indefensible? Or should they

abandon the tobacco industry to an uncertain fate?



No matter that there is scant evidence to prove that tobacco ad bans

reduce consumption, or that the number of smokers may increase if

cigarette manufacturers, having been denied the right to advertise,

resort to a price war.



For Gallaher, which is reported to be putting pounds 10 million behind

the launch of the Sovereign cigarette brand, it’s hard to know what

would be worse - a costly failure or a successful campaign that merely

helps to hasten the ban it is so desperate to avoid.



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