- The Government's own advisors have issued a veiled warning that Labour ministers may have been wrong to rush ahead with plans to ban tobacco advertising.
The Better Regulation Task Force, set up to root out unnecessary red tape, has urged ministers to avoid bans and rely on self-regulation wherever possible.
Its call may help persuade the Government to resist European Union pressure for curbs on alcohol and children's advertising. But it comes too late to stop ministers implementing the EU's ban on tobacco promotion. The upcoming EU ban is facing a legal challenge from four tobacco manufacturers which this week launched a move in the British courts to thwart it.
British American Tobacco, Gallaher, Imperial and Rothmans are asking the High Court to refer the EU's directive to the European Court of Justice, claiming that it is illegal and violates several principles of European treaty law.
The companies claim the EU has no power to introduce such legislation, that it will restrict their ability to tell customers about their products and could even prevent them providing information to adult smokers who request it.
The taskforce, which reports to the Cabinet Office, said in its annual review: "When ministers, who are under pressure to react too quickly to public safety concerns, seek scapegoats or introduce bans without proper discussion, the consequence may be impractical regulation which earns little public support in the longer term."
The group, chaired by Lord Haskins, the chairman of Northern Foods, said it was right to give the public information such as safe drinking levels and put health warnings on cigarette packets.
"But most people recognise that tobacco and alcohol, although dangerous substances, cannot and should not be proscribed."
While the state should protect vulnerable groups such as young people, "for the rest of us, decisions affecting only ourselves should not be subject to government regulation." said the task force.
The report will be seized on by Tory MPs who have accused ministers of rushing ahead without holding proper consultations with the tobacco and advertising industries.
Tessa Jowell, the Health Minister, promised talks with interested parties before the Government issues a white paper later this year on how the ban will work. She said the document would include a full assessment of its impact on the two sectors.