Europe agrees to watered down tobacco ad ban

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BRUSSELS -- A Europe-wide ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship was finally agreed upon in principle by European Union governments last week after eight years of deadlocked negotiations.

The agreement, carried by a slim majority, is a greatly watered down version of earlier drafts. It allows tobacco companies the possibility of advertising in print for four years after the ban passes into Euro- pean law next year or in 1999. It permits sponsorship a fifth year in which to wind down. And an additional three year exemption is given to existing sponsorship of events organized at world level, such as Formula 1 car racing, on the condition that the money spent and its impact are reduced during that time.

However, no new tobacco products will be able to carry the trademark of another product after the EU directive has come into force, and all tobacco advertising and sponsorship will be outlawed in Europe on October 1, 2006.

Tobacco marketers were quick to claim a "political settlement," pointing to the many details left unresolved. Working parties of officials in the 15 EU member states and at EU level are already attempting to work out just how the broad-brush agree- ment will take shape.

No specific details have been agreed to, for example, regarding direct marketing or brand endorsement of other categories, such as clothing.

Officials' proposals will go before the European Parliament next and finally the Council of Ministers once again. This process could take up to two years, particu- larly if there is yet more disagreement.

"While there is no agreement, there is nothing," said Robert Toet, Brussels-based chairman of the Confederation of European Community Cigarette Manufacturers. "Our next step is to get some sense put into the [officials'] text, so this thing doesn't go too far."

The European Advertising Tripartite agreed that "so far this is only a poli- tical agreement. The issue is not over yet."

John Carlisle, executive director, industry affairs at the U.K.'s Tobacco Manufacturers' Association, which represents companies spending $97 million annually on advertising and sponsorship, predicted that EU health ministers would be disappointed to find a ban would not reduce tobacco con- sumption. "We think it's a worthless exercise, but it makes them feel better."

EU ministers finally managed to reach an agreement this year because of a change in U.K. government last May to Labour, which favored a ban. The switch in the U.K. vote knocked down the "blocking minority" of countries which had hampered the directive's progress since 1989.

Copyright December 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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