UK: Tobacco Advertising Ban Passed

LONDON -- Legislation to ban tobacco advertising in Britain cleared its last parliamentary hurdle on Monday and is set to become law.

The elected House of Commons passed the bill, which has been crawling through parliament for more than a year, late in the evening after an amendment was voted down. The bill now goes for Royal assent before becoming law.

The legislation will ban press, billboard and internet advertising of tobacco products and will prohibit the promotion of smoking through free distribution of tobacco products, coupons and mailshots.

It will also impose restrictions on the display and promotion of tobacco products in shops.

"Smoking eventually kills one in every two smokers," Labor health minister Hazel Blears told parliament. "Banning tobacco advertising does cut consumption but only if it is comprehensive."

The government pledged early this year to back the bill which was initially sponsored by the minority Liberal Democrats.

The move meets a pledge first made by Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1997. The government allowed its own bill, with the same aim, to run into the sand last year.

The Liberal Democrats' Tobacco Advertising and Promotion bill is an exact copy of the defunct government version.

"Liberal Democrats introduced this bill to parliament because of the massive impact of smoking on public health," the party's health spokesman Evan Harris said. "By backing today's bill, the government is finally making good on its 1997 manifesto commitment to ban tobacco advertising."

Bans on point-of-sale advertising and brand sharing are expected to come into effect quickly, but most sports will have until mid-2003 to find non-tobacco sponsors and some special cases, such as Formula One motor racing, will have a longer deadline stretching to 2006.

The issue is an embarrassing one for Blair.

Early in his tenure Formula One motor racing was exempted from a ban on tobacco advertising after the sport's billionaire boss Bernie Ecclestone gave Labor a million pounds. The party was forced to give it back but the mud stuck.

Research suggests that an advertising ban could eventually save up to 3,000 lives a year.

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