OPINION: Tory U-turn will deepen tobacco ad ban wound

The volte-face by the Conservatives in abandoning their opposition to a tobacco ad ban may seem an empty gesture but will still come as a huge psychological blow to Britain’s beleaguered cigarette manufacturers.

The volte-face by the Conservatives in abandoning their opposition

to a tobacco ad ban may seem an empty gesture but will still come as a

huge psychological blow to Britain’s beleaguered cigarette

manufacturers.



With the Tories unelectable for the foreseeable future, the party’s

change of heart will have little practical effect. Yet behind the anger

of tobacco lobbyists who accuse it of cowering in the face of political

correctness is the knowledge that one of its last big allies has

deserted.



The defection will be all the harder for the tobacco companies to accept

because the Tories could never be accused of having been a fair weather

friend of the industry. The party has always defended manufacturers’

freedom to advertise - even if tobacco bosses have reciprocated with

generous contributions to party funds.



Now, having stuck a wet finger in the air, the party is in no doubt

which way the tide of public opinion is flowing and has left the

industry to fight its own battles.



In doing so, the Tories have acknowledged that tobacco company arguments

for being allowed to continue promoting its products are no longer

sustainable.



No matter that a case can be made that, with 30 per cent of UK smokers

switching brands each year, cigarette advertising is more about

increasing share of the market than growing it.



No matter also that the effects of tobacco ad bans implemented in some

other countries have proved almost impossible to isolate or

disentangle.



Or that advertising money may be redistibuted into price cutting, so

driving up consumption.



The fact is that tobacco advertising can never be discussed

dispassionately.



The argument that a product which is legal to sell should be legal to

advertise pales in the face of 120,000 smoking-related deaths a

year.



So does the industry’s contention that tobacco advertising is not

helping lure young people when figures show they are smoking in

increasing numbers.



The industry may be able to throw the occasional spanner into the wheels

of the anti-smoking juggernaut but it won’t halt it. The public

overwhelmingly favours an ad ban - and politicians ignore public opinion

at their peril.



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