This week’s news that the Government is to speed up the
implementation of the European Union’s ban on tobacco advertising will
have brought a smile to the lips of spin doctors everywhere.
With impeccable timing, it follows the release last week of statistics
revealing that Britain has one of the worst cancer survival rates in the
developed world. Be French if you want the best chance of surviving lung
cancer, be Swiss if you want to live after breast cancer, be Austrian if
you have stomach cancer. Whatever you do, just don’t be British, because
we’re at the bottom of the league along with Estonia and Poland.
Does the Government react by allocating extra money beyond the pounds 21
billion for the NHS announced in last year’s spending review? Does it
address the fact that Britain spends less than any equivalent Western
country on cancer medicines? (Britain spent pounds 1.01 per head in the
year to March 1998, while Germany spent pounds 2.31 and the US pounds
4.93.) Does it listen to the Cancer Research Campaign’s call for an
extra pounds 70 million to be spent on drugs and treatments for the
disease? No, it keeps the Treasury purse firmly shut, identifies a
headline opportunity and opts to outlaw tobacco advertising seven months
earlier than it had previously announced, by December this year.
There are three effects of this use of advertising for what might be
called ’gesture politics’. The first, as reported opposite, is that the
Tobacco Manufacturers Association has hired M&C Saatchi to stage a
The second is that the poster industry has a right to be sore; it had,
after all, been promised time to prepare for the total ban.
The third is that the debate will switch to the issue of below-the-line
promotion. The tobacco manufacturers are already putting their marketing
budgets behind direct mail, product extensions, websites and branded
That process will accelerate and it is here that M&C may find its
efforts most needed, for it must know it is on to a loser regarding the
Acknowledging that the ethical argument is running against tobacco
advertising, it is Campaign’s duty to reflect all shades of opinion in
this most contentious debate.
The industry bodies that champion the line that if a product can be sold
legally it should also be legal to advertise will be dismayed.
Those agencies that do not undertake tobacco advertising as a matter of
principle - the two obvious names are Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and
Bartle Bogle Hegarty - will be cheering.
And spin doctors everywhere will salute another great piece of Blairite
PR. Why, you could almost forget that the Government had ever drawn fire
for abandoning its manifesto commitment to ban Formula One sponsorship
by tobacco companies, couldn’t you?
Stefano Hatfield is away.