PERSPECTIVE: A waiting game as tobacco ads enjoy a stay of execution

What was the biggest surprise in adland last week? That Lowe and Ammirati Puris Lintas are to merge? After months of rumours and leaks, no surprise there. That at least one APL figure (Vince Lubrano, the money man) has secured himself a place with the Lowe contingent on the new Lowe Lintas board? No surprise there, either; like all mergers, this one’s really a takeover in disguise. Or was it the High Court ruling last Friday that the timing of the planned tobacco advertising ban in the UK - due to begin on 10 December, well before an European Union deadline of July 2001 - was illegal? Of course it was.

What was the biggest surprise in adland last week? That Lowe and

Ammirati Puris Lintas are to merge? After months of rumours and leaks,

no surprise there. That at least one APL figure (Vince Lubrano, the

money man) has secured himself a place with the Lowe contingent on the

new Lowe Lintas board? No surprise there, either; like all mergers, this

one’s really a takeover in disguise. Or was it the High Court ruling

last Friday that the timing of the planned tobacco advertising ban in

the UK - due to begin on 10 December, well before an European Union

deadline of July 2001 - was illegal? Of course it was.



As we all know, the tobacco advertising issue is rarely reported with

anything approaching neutrality. The heroes and villains are already

clearly demarcated in this story, so let’s recap.



The bosses of the tobacco companies are a faceless, sadistic,

self-serving crew, clearly reconciled to abandoning their profits in

mature tobacco markets where breathing other people’s smoke is morally

equivalent to being sprayed with machine-gun fire, because they see fat

profits in Asia and Eastern Europe. Nonetheless, they are determined to

undermine the UK ad ban which, if allowed to go ahead, will make the UK

a healthier nation.



The foil to this image of corporate cynicism is the caring government

(let’s not mention the fact that the UK has one of the worst cancer

survival rates in Europe, it so messes up the argument). Having sold its

anti-smoking crusade as a manifesto commitment, it’s been stymied by the

tobacco companies winning this latest legal battle. Witness the

hysterical reaction from Alan Milburn, the health secretary.



Meanwhile, following the reprieve, agencies with tobacco accounts are

rubbing their hands with glee. They know that the Government will appeal

against the lifting of the ban, but they also know that the appeal is

unlikely to be heard in time to meet the 10 December deadline. They know

that a fast-track route to a ban would be a Private Member’s bill in

Parliament, but there is no guarantee that it would attract government

support. So they are putting their farewell campaigns back in the drawer

and happily predicting increased revenues for next year.



Between these moral and economic arguments, there is an interesting

legal precedent unfolding. The UK is the first EU government to seek to

implement the tobacco ad ban. It looked like it had succeeded and now

the tables have been turned, albeit temporarily. Now the UK may be

forced to turn to the EU timetable of events, which does not oblige us

to introduce a ban under the directive until 2001. The other EU member

states will be looking on with great interest.



caroline.marshall@haynet.com



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