As European Union health ministers vote today, December 4, on a
directive banning all direct and indirect tobacco advertising, the
tobacco industry and its advertising agencies will be relying on one
country - the UK - to defend their interests.
Not only does the UK hold a swing vote, it is also the only country
seeking an exemption to the ban. It plans, under proposed national
legislation, to permanently enable tobacco sponsorship of Formula 1
Reaching a compromise with the rest of Europe is key to the directive’s
implementation, but other countries are unlikely to support a ban
weakened by exemptions.
A compromise on a transition period, giving Formula 1 sufficient time to
find alternative forms of sponsorship is seen as a way forward. While a
time scale of four and a half years to end all sports sponsorship has
been proposed in the directive, countries may be willing to extend the
period to seven years for F1, to take into account British concerns.
’This sort of compromise seems to be a political price other countries
are willing to pay,’ says Andrew Hayes, EU liaison officer for the
International Union Against Cancer (UICC).
Directive in danger
’It is hoped that the UK will agree a temporary transition phase for
sponsorship as a whole. The conditions would be that no new tobacco
sponsorship would be introduced during that time and that efforts should
be made to phase out existing sponsorship as quickly as possible.
’If Britain does not back down from its demand for permanent exemption
for F1, the directive is likely to collapse,’ says Hayes.
A spokesman for the Department of Health confirms that the government is
still seeking a permanent exemption for F1. ’(Public health minister)
Tessa Jowell has said she is prepared to negotiate, but the directive’s
success is not all down to the UK, as Formula 1 is not the only issue at
stake. If the directive doesn’t go through we will introduce domestic
legislation,’ the spokesman says.
When Tessa Jowell announced the F1 exemption, it provoked as much
outrage in Europe as in the UK. The ban’s initiator, Health Commissioner
Padraig Flynn, was ready to abandon his lengthy campaign, saying he
would not pursue the proposed directive while some member states
Other countries claimed the UK exemption would be unfair and hinted that
they too may seek exemptions in areas important to them, while the Dutch
parliament branded the UK ’illogical’ adding: ’You do not bring in a ban
and immediately attach exceptions to it.’
Reconciling the UK is essential. In 1992 a minority consisting of the
UK, Germany, The Netherlands, Greece and Denmark blocked EU legislation
banning tobacco advertising. But last week’s dramatic U-turn by The
Netherlands, which voted in favour of a domestic ban, means that the UK
now has the swing vote.
Hayes believes it is unlikely that the UK will vote against the ban.
’The Labour government made it clear in its manifesto that it was
committed to a total ban on advertising. If it fails to back down on the
F1 issue, it will lose its credibility on a major scale with the British
public, Europe and the health lobby,’ he says.
Europe divided over tobacco advertising ban
Austria - Two years ago, its health minister supported ban. It is now
strongly opposed, mainly due to economic pressure with the national
tobacco company about to be privatised.
Belgium - Has always been in favour of ban. National restrictions on
tobacco advertising imposed in 1980.
Denmark - Has traditionally sat on the fence but in 1992 it was part of
a minority preventing European legislation on tobacco advertising.
Claims the ban has implications for freedom of speech.
Finland - Strongly favours ban. Has had national ban since 1978.
France - Has traditionally tough stance on tobacco ads. Imposed Loi Evin
restricting alcohol and tobacco advertising at televised French sporting
events in 1993.
Germany - One of the biggest tobacco traders, it has always strongly
objected to a ban. One of the blocking minority countries in 1992.
Claims it is not simply a health matter but has severe economic
Greece - Resistance has remained implacable. Again, economic issues
central with internal pressure from tobacco farmers. One of blocking
minority in 1992.
Ireland - Always favoured ban.
Italy - In favour of ban. Has had national ban since 1963 but has not
Luxembourg - Always been in favour. Has restrictions on press ads.
National ban preferred but faces pressure from neighbouring
Netherlands - Has traditionally been formally opposed and was one of the
blocking minority. Changed opinion last week by banning nearly all
promotion of cigarettes in Netherlands except at POS, following research
showing that voluntary agreements with tobacco industry are
Looks likely to switch sides in Europe, leaving Britain with the swing
Portugal - In favour. National ban imposed 1982.
Spain - Wavered in support for European ban. Believed to be currently in
favour. Has loose national restrictions in place.
Sweden - Favours ban. Banned direct advertising in 1995.
UK - One of major tobacco traders along with Germany and the
Was the fifth country opposing ban in 1992.
Election of Labour government seen as key to breaking impasse on 1992
draft directive. Its change of heart would be enough to muster a
qualified majority in favour of a ban. Decision depends on reaching
compromise on F1 exemption.