EUROPE TO HALT TOBACCO ADS, SPONSORSHIPS: DIRECTIVE ON TRACK TO BECOME LAW THIS SUMMER

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Nine years after it was first proposed, a staggered Europe-wide tobacco ad and sponsorship ban will become law this summer.

The proposal, which will snuff out all remaining forms of tobacco advertising and sponsorship in the 15 European Community member countries, cleared its final hurdle at a meeting of the European Parliament May 13.

A qualified majority, or 214 of 314 European Parliament members, voted to pass the draft directive and reject any attempts to tone it down, despite strenuous lobbying by tobacco industry groups.

A meeting of the European Council of Ministers will next adopt the proposal as a formality, probably by the end of June.

The directive allows member states three years in which to incorporate it into their own laws. Then, tobacco marketers will be able to use print ads for one more year after that.

Sponsorships will have two years to wind down, and existing sponsorship of events organized at a world level -- such as Formula 1 automobile racing -- will get five years, on the condition that the amount of money spent and its impact are reduced during that time.

A U.K. VICTORY

The vote is seen as a victory for the U.K., which was keen to have the matter concluded before it hands over its European Union presidency to Austria on July 1.

Austria, along with Germany, voted against the terms of the directive in December, when a compromise proposal was passed by a slim majority.

Tobacco and advertising groups are warning the directive could still be torn apart, once it becomes EC law, if challenged in the European Courts of Justice by a member state.

The Brussels-based European Advertising Tripartite said threats to the advertising of legally available products "constitute an ominous perspective."

The new head of the World Health Organization called for a broad alliance against tobacco. WHO is expected to formally call for a worldwide ban on tobacco advertising May 28, when it launches its World No Tobacco Day, whose theme is "Growing up without tobacco."

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