E.U. to outlaw tobacco advertisements

BRUSSELS DEC. 4. The majority of European Union Health Ministers have agreed to outlaw tobacco advertising by July 2005.

The new rules will also prohibit advertisements promoting tobacco in newspapers and at sporting events like Formula One motor racing, on radio and the Internet.

The proposal to prohibit cigarette-manufacturing companies from sponsoring sporting events — particularly Formula One motor racing — may have a significant impact on the politics and finances of motor racing events.

All this has been agreed on by the Health Ministers, despite opposition from Britain and Germany, where the tobacco industry has tremendous political clout.

The British Health Minister lobbied behind-the-scenes to exempt Formula One racing from the proposed ban.

The ruling Labour Party had accepted an amount equivalent to Rs 70 crores from the head of Formula One racing some time ago. But the money was returned after much public and media controversy.

German newspapers and magazines are estimated to earn very substantial amounts every year from tobacco companies.

The E.U. Health Commissioner (Minister), David Byrne, termed the agreement to ban tobacco advertising as "another nail in the coffin of tobacco industry''.

It is also an open secret that the industry often retains key decision-makers on its payrolls to do "promotional and lobbying work" in an increasingly hostile environment.

Such personnel may include even former prime ministers, who are hired at a very high fee.

A former British Prime Minister was paid the equivalent of $500,000 a year in addition to entertainment and travelling expenses.

The tobacco industry has conveniently argued that cigarette advertising is aimed only at existing smokers in a competition between various brands.

The general perception is that a ban on cigarette advertising will only help "established" brands to consolidate their hold on consumers, as it will be much harder for new competitors to break into the market.

Mr. Byrne wants to cut the European death rate from tobacco-related illnesses to the much lower American level.

It is also ironical that the cigarette companies are now focusing their marketing and distribution efforts in Third World countries, where there is no anti-cigarette legislation and where politicians can be retained on their pay rolls for far less sums.

In Africa, for example, these companies usually hire young relatives of key politicians to promote their products.

The E.U. Health Ministers also signed recommendations urging member nations to make further efforts to eradicate tobacco use among children and adolescents.

This calls for banning automatic cigarette vending machines. Television advertising of tobacco products is already banned under a separate E.U. law.

Despite the proposed ban on advertising on newspaper, Internet and radio, it remains to be seen how the powerful "tobacco lobby" on both sides of the Atlantic can be permanently muted. The German lobby, for example, argues that the local newspapers in smaller towns should be allowed to carry cigarette advertisements because they do not have a pan-European circulation.

This is obviously a ploy to retain some foothold but the anti-smoking lobby and pressure groups have vehemently opposed such demands.

One of the world's largest tobacco companies — the Imperial Tobacco Company of Britain — said it was disappointed by the E.U. decision but did not say whether it would legally challenge the new rules.

Some companies indulge in indirect advertising — like using a cigarette brand name for a clothing item.

According to the European Commission, more than half a million Europeans die of tobacco-related diseases each year. European authorities have claimed that cigarette advertising has played a crucial role in encouraging tobacco smoking.

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