Tobacco ads, sponsorship to be outlawed in Europe

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STRASBOURG -- 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 over the next eight years, cleared its final hurdle at a meeting of the European Parliament May 13.

A qualified majority of 314 MEPs voted to pass the draft directive and reject any attempts to tone it down, despite strenuous lobbying by tobacco industry groups claiming its illegality. There were 214 votes against and 18 abstentions.

A meeting of the European Council of Ministers will now be obliged to adopt the proposal as a formality, which likely will happen by the end of June.

The directive allows member states three years in which to incorporate it into their own law. Then, tobacco companies will be able to use print ads for a year after that. Sponsorships will have two years to wind down and existing sponsorship of events organized at world level - such as Formula 1 car racing - will get five years, on the condition that the money spent and its impact are reduced during that time. Tobacco advertising on TV was outlawed in the EC in 1989.

The vote is seen as a victory for the U.K., which was eager to have the matter concluded before its EU presidency is handed over to Austria on July 1. Austria, along with Germany, voted against the terms of the directive last December when a compromise proposal was passed by a slim majority. Denmark and Spain abstained at that time.

But the tobacco and advertising industries are warning that the directive could still be torn apart once it becomes EC law if challenged in the European Courts of Justice by a member state. Tobacco marketers claim the proposal is illegal because of its impact on the freedom of expression.

The Brussels-based European Advertising Tripartite said threats on the advertising of any legally available products "constitute an ominous perspective, as they could set in motion an irreversible domino effect on the advertising of an ever larger range of products in a near future."

David Swan, chief executive of the U.K.'s Tobacco Manufacturers' Association, added the U.K. government may have "shot itself in the foot" in its rush to get the credit for anti-tobacco measures during its EU presidency. "If and when the directive's legitimacy is challenged and fails in the courts, this approach will not look so clever," he said.

The Geneva-based World Health Organization is expected to call for a worldwide ban on tobacco advertising May 28 when it launches in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, its "World No Tobacco Day," whose theme is "growing up without tobacco."

Joe Cappo, newly-elected International Advertising Association world president and senior VP-international at Crain Communications, said the IAA is opposed to any ban on tobacco advertising "as long as cigarettes are legal to make, sell and use." He added: "If cigarette smoking is so bad, why don't they ban their manufacture? Why do they always use advertising as a whipping boy?"

Copyright May 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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