Gallaher may be the first cigarette manufacturer to launch a brand in
the face of an impending ban on tobacco advertising, but it’s unlikely
to be the last.
Like General Custer at Little Big Horn, the tobacco companies may be
about to face their last stand as significant advertisers. The scramble
is on to establish new brands in important growth sectors before a
possible clampdown renders such activity almost impossible.
It’s a safe bet that the guardians of the ad industry would never have
chosen tobacco as the cause celebre in the fight to safeguard commercial
freedom of speech. There are many within the ad industry itself who
question whether the fact that cigarettes are legally on sale is
justification enough for promoting them.
The tobacco companies look increasingly beleaguered. They may try to
bypass the emotional arguments by enlisting the support of the European
courts to defend their rights. But even a victory in the courts may
prove no more than a pyrrhic one. The legal system only has credibility
if it commands widespread support. Tobacco advertising could prove
counter-productive if it is sustained by legal protection, rather than
For those charged with looking after advertising’s interests, the
tobacco issue is a huge dilemma. Should they defend what a large
proportion of the population regard as indefensible? Or should they
abandon the tobacco industry to an uncertain fate?
No matter that there is scant evidence to prove that tobacco ad bans
reduce consumption, or that the number of smokers may increase if
cigarette manufacturers, having been denied the right to advertise,
resort to a price war.
For Gallaher, which is reported to be putting pounds 10 million behind
the launch of the Sovereign cigarette brand, it’s hard to know what
would be worse - a costly failure or a successful campaign that merely
helps to hasten the ban it is so desperate to avoid.