The Government warned the advertising and tobacco industries this week that it would crack down on their attempts to get around the looming ban on tobacco promotion.
In a white paper, the health secretary, Alan Milburn, said that the Government would work with trading standards officers employed by local authorities to monitor the effectiveness of the ban. Whitehall sources said agencies and tobacco companies could face hefty fines for breaching it.
The document said: 'We recognise that tobacco manufacturers may seek to exploit any gaps in present regulation. We will monitor im-plementation of the law on advertising carefully with other interested parties.'
Milburn admitted that 'innovative promotional efforts' planned by the industry were a threat to the success of the ban.
He was replying to a report by the Commons Health Select Committee this summer, which attacked agencies for getting round the existing voluntary agreement to restrict tobacco advertising, partly by targeting children.
A Government spokesman said: 'The committee's analysis of the industry marketing strategies is powerful and we will seek to learn from it.' But the Government has stopped short of backing MPs' call for a new tobacco regulatory authority to be set up to police the ban. Although the Government accepted that tobacco needed to be regulated more effectively than at present, it said much of this would be done more effectively at a European Union level.
Milburn confirmed that the Government was preparing its own legislation to outlaw tobacco ads following the European Court's ruling that the EU directive was illegal.
The measure will be included in the Queen's Speech next month but ministers will face a race against time to get it on the statute book before the general election if, as expected, it is called for next May.