LIVE ISSUE/TOBACCO ADVERTISING: Winners and losers as the tobacco ad ban looms. Andrew Grice looks at the upheaval facing agencies as new rules are unveiled

As the door closes for the advertising industry, with the Government pressing ahead with a ban on tobacco promotion (Campaign, last week), another door will open - for some agencies, at least.

As the door closes for the advertising industry, with the

Government pressing ahead with a ban on tobacco promotion (Campaign,

last week), another door will open - for some agencies, at least.

The anti-smoking strategy recently unveiled by Frank Dobson, the Health

Secretary, included a pledge to spend #50 million over three years on an

unprecedented campaign to persuade people not to smoke, including the #3

million a year budget currently with the Health Education Authority.

The blitz, which will start next autumn, will be so intense that a few

agencies are likely to win a slice of the action. It will also provide

some compensation for the outdoor industry which, according to the

Advertising Association, will be hardest hit by the timetable for

implementing the European Union’s directive ending tobacco


The EU agreed that posters would be banned by July 2001, but the British

Government intends to implement the ruling a year earlier. Newspaper and

magazine ads, due to disappear throughout Europe, should also end here

by July 2000 thanks to a second sting in the tail of Dobson’s white


The fast-tracking of the ban was seen at Westminster as a concession to

the anti-smoking lobby, aimed at distracting attention from the

Government’s refusal to outlaw smoking in pubs and restaurants. ’The

only real surprise in the white paper was the timetable,’ Andrew Brown,

the director-general of the AA, says. ’The impact on some parts of the

industry will be greater, especially posters. You can’t take #60 million

out of the market without hurting people.’

Brown believes there are bound to be job losses in agencies dependent on

tobacco business, but hopes they would be ’modest in the overall scheme

of things’. A study by Pieda Consulting, commissioned by the Tobacco

Manufacturers’ Association, suggests that the ban would cost 1,500 jobs

in advertising and sales promotion (Campaign, 4 December).

But the Government is sceptical: a report published alongside the white

paper said the impact on the ad industry will be difficult to gauge.

Agencies have had time to find other clients, it said, adding hopefully

that ’the creative success of tobacco advertising campaigns will help

those responsible to remain competitive’. It admitted that reduced

demand could lead to a fall in the price of advertising but said this

could help other companies who wish to advertise.

Although the Government has promised to consult the tobacco and

advertising sectors before pushing the ban through Parliament, the AA

sees little hope that ministers will change their minds over the

timetable. The only ray of hope lies in two legal challenges: one in the

British courts by the tobacco companies, the other in the European Court

of Justice, where Germany is questioning the legal validity of the


Some agencies who lose above-the-line work as the ban takes effect may

be asked to channel their creative ingenuity into finding other ways to

recruit smokers.

Direct mail and ’brand stretching’ will be prohibited, but ministers are

bracing themselves for a ’cat and mouse’ game as tobacco companies seek

ways around the ban.

The bad news for agencies hit by the ban is that they are unlikely to

get the chance to switch from poacher to gamekeeper and land a share of

the Government’s anti-smoking drive. ’I don’t think M&C Saatchi (which

holds the Gallaher account) will be top of the shortlist,’ one industry

source says. A Government insider agrees, saying: ’Agencies that have

profited from tobacco are not going to be in on the act.’

No decisions have yet been taken on how the #50 million budget will be

carved up. Romola Christopherson, director of press and publicity at the

Department of Health, says: ’A large chunk will be spent on advertising

but that will only be one part of the mix.’

She added that there will be extensive research and media planning to

ensure the campaign reaches its target audience, and there will also be

a role for direct marketing, public relations and sponsorship.

Young people will be targeted through teenage magazines, adult smokers

in lower income groups will be told they will be better off if they quit

and women planning to have children will be warned that smoking can harm

their baby.

Ministers have invested so much political capital in the campaign that

they are unlikely to hand it over to the self-standing Health Education

Authority, which currently retains Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO on it #2.5

million anti-smoking account, while the Department of Health has put

#500,000 into a push aimed at teenagers from the through-the-line

agency, Brewer Blackler.

Although the Department of Health will be in the driving seat, the HEA

could win contracts for part of the work and AMV, whose creative work is

admired by the Government, is likely to win a place on the agency


The agencies involved will certainly have to earn their money. Their

work will be measured against targets to reduce the number of smokers

which have been missed repeatedly in the past. But at least they will

get the tools to do the job. ’For years, tobacco companies have spent

millions on advertising,’ Dobson says. ’Now we are prepared to do the


Andrew Grice is the political editor of the Independent.

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