OPINION: A tobacco ad ban needs more rounded analysis

Given a free choice, no lobbyist would pick tobacco promotion as the battleground on which to mount a defence against those wishing to bury advertising under a mass of statutory controls.

Given a free choice, no lobbyist would pick tobacco promotion as

the battleground on which to mount a defence against those wishing to

bury advertising under a mass of statutory controls.



Cigarettes kill people and the standard riposte that the manufacturers

of a product legally produced should be allowed to advertise, seems like

a lame cop-out when set against tobacco’s death toll.



Small wonder, then, that the tobacco ad debate has always been high on

emotion and low on rational discussion.



The Formula One fiasco has been the most obvious manifestation of the

Government’s cobbled-together policy. Now its own advisors, in the form

of the Better Regulation Task Force, have suggested that ministers will

rue their knee-jerk reactions in seeking an ad ban.



There’s no denying the resourcefulness of the tobacco industry. Last

week, four companies resorted to the courts to get the EU tobacco

promotion ban declared illegal. Clearly they think they have a better

chance with a judge, whose only concern is with what is, or isn’t,

lawful.



By contrast, the Government appears to be making up its strategy as it

goes along. As a result, it may cause more problems than it solves.



What if a ban provokes a price war which drives up consumption? What if

the EU merely succeeds in exporting its problems to the third world

where ad restrictions barely exist? What is to be done about brand names

such as Marlboro and Dunhill which are as common on clothes as they are

on cigarette packets?



The Government may have a mandate for a tobacco ad ban. But that support

will quickly dissipate if it produces an ill-considered one.



The manufacturers have been careful to keep their case out of the

emotional mire that its opponents in Parliament and the EU have often

lacked.



It has planned long and hard for this time with coolness and pragmatism.



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