It may be one small step for the anti-smoking lobby, but the decision by
Guernsey to ban tobacco advertising may yet set a course for the rest of
the UK to follow.
It’s easy to dismiss the island’s move as nothing more than the
eccentric whim of independent local politicians with powers denied to
their mainland counterparts.
To a degree, that’s true. Guernsey’s parliament has no authority to halt
the distribution of newspapers and magazines carrying cigarette ads that
arrive from elsewhere. Meanwhile, the island’s press can only seethe.
Also, poster advertising is already tightly controlled and cigarette
advertising is largely confined to point-of-sale, so the practical
effect of the ban will be minimal.
A more effective weapon in Guernsey’s war against the island’s
alarmingly high number of child smokers will be the new power to raise
the price of cigarettes, currently 30 per cent cheaper than in the rest
of the UK. So why bother with an ad ban when a price hike would do the
job better? Because logic and reason play little part in the tobacco
debate. Guernsey’s parliament is simply reflecting the prevailing public
clamour for action.
Indeed, if the legislative powers of the UK’s local authorities matched
those of Guernsey, it’s a safe bet that local bans on tobacco
advertising would soon be in force across large areas of the UK.
Lobbyists privately concede that fighting a tobacco ad ban is a lost
cause. They don’t say so publicly lest they are seen to be deserting a
legitimate advertiser or creating a hole through which other ad
restrictions might flow.
True, the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association’s targeting of Labour MPs
with large numbers of tobacco-related jobs in their constituencies will
be a powerful test of the party’s resolve to outlaw cigarette promotion.
But the fact remains that public intolerance of tobacco advertising is
growing - and advertising which has no public mandate is doomed.