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BRUSSELS-The hotly debated directive to ban European Community tobacco advertising is losing steam.

The directive, aimed at prohibiting tobacco advertising everywhere within the EC (excluding point-of-purchase ads in tobacco specialty shops), was sent back to the negotiating table last month on the advice of Council of Ministers' lawyers. They contend it may no longer be legally valid because the overall agreement to make the 12 countries a single market is now a done deal.

Because Greece, a country that has opposed the ban, officially takes over the EC presidency this month and will set the agenda for EC negotiations for the following six months, a big campaign to save the tobacco rule is unlikely.

"It looks as if there has been a change of heart in the European Union," said John Ritchie, deputy chairman of Collett Dickenson Pearce & Partners, London, the agency for several tobacco brands and chairman of the European Association of Advertising Agencies' comittee on restricting tobacco advertising.

"My belief is that [the EC directive] will probably be withdrawn." The EC is coming to the conclusion that the ban should be a matter each country handles individually rather than blindly following an EC directive, he added.

Intended to simplify marketing throughout the community by having a single ad law, the directive has been delayed for years because of differing opinions over the need for a total ad ban. Meanwhile, the final ratification last November of the Treaty of European Union officially completed the single European market and, in effect, ended the mandate to come up with community-wide directives.

For tobacco marketers, the threat of a Europe-wide tobacco ban receding is good news. The industry spends about $600 million to $1 billion on advertising in the EC annually, and the biggest international tobacco marketers are R.J. Reynolds International, Philip Morris International, B.A.T and Reemstma. An EC ban would have hurt them most in the countries where they need to compete with entrenched state tobacco monopolies-France, Italy and Spain.

Tobacco marketers are also heavily reliant on advertising in new markets such as Eastern Europe where smoking is still on the rise but western brands were unavailable until recent years unless they were smuggled in.

There have been efforts in such countries as Hungary and Romania to crack down on tobacco advertising with bans or partial bans of their own but the new laws tend to be so confusing and poorly enforced that marketers frequently ignore them (AAI, April 19).

Nonetheless, some tobacco marketers have already prepared for growing restrictions on tobacco advertising by eliminating all mention of cigarettes and even the pack itself from their ads. PM's Marlboro ads are recognizable from just its red-and-white logo and Gallaher Tobacco, for example, has a long-running campaign that Charles Saatchi himself works on at Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, London, featuring visual puns on the brand name of Silk Cut cigarettes. The first ad simply showed a slit, or cut, in a piece of purple silk.

For unresolved EC issues like the tobacco ad ban, there is growing support for subsidiarity, or allowing each country to decide for itself. For example, last month Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers, citing the ratification of the treaty as evidence that the single market is already here, pressed leaders at the Brussels European Council to withdraw the tobacco directive to allow countries to decide their own fate.

The latest obstacle to the tobacco directive comes only a month after the Swiss public overwhelmingly voted down that country's proposed tobacco ad ban.

"Switzerland is the only European country where .|.|. an advertising ban has been put to the electorate by referendum," said Jean Lepers, chairman of the Confederation of European Community Cigarette Manufacturers. And the people of Switzerland, although not an EC member, sent a clear message in rejecting a national tobacco ad ban by 3-to-1, with 1.5 million against the ban and only 518,000 in favor.

"There is now an overwhelming case for a fundamental review of the Commission's proposal on tobacco advertising," said Mr. Lepers. "The Swiss lesson should not be ignored."

Aimed at fulfilling single market rules of the Maastricht Treaty on European Union, the tobacco ad ban proposal introduced in mid-1991 has been opposed by international tobacco and advertising associations.

The Commission justified the ban, noting that various countries had or were considering restrictions on tobacco advertising and that there was a need for common rules on cross-border trade.

"I think this is a sign of realism," said Lionel Stanbrook, director of special issues and European affairs of the U.K. Advertising Association. "It is ridiculous to claim this ban was [uniting the] market when really it is just a health measure."

Ronald Beatson, director-general of the European Association of Ad vertising Agencies, said the Swiss referendum will set the precedent for the tobacco directive to be thrown out.

"The Swiss referendum just proves that when you ask people what they want, they will choose adult freedom of choice," he said.

Should the EC directive be beaten, it won't necessarily mean individual countries won't enact their own laws banning tobacco ads-France, for example, recently banned all to bacco ads.

"It's always difficult to predict the future," said Caroline Crawford, head of media relations for the U.K.'s Advertising Standards Authority. "Certainly the [U.K.'s current] Conservative government is in favor of self-regulation and certainly would not support a ban on advertising. But if [someday] we have a Labour government, who is to say?"

Although the government opposes an ad ban, U.K. Health Minister Virginia Bottomley has indicated that she wants to discuss the possibility of extending voluntary tobacco ad restrictions with tobacco companies early this year.

For example, one area up for discussion could be women's magazines. Tobacco advertising is not allowed in magazines aimed at very young women but is permitted in other women's magazines.

Tobacco ads have heated up on the U.K. agenda following Imperial Tobacco's voluntary removal of its Embassy Regal cigarette campaign last month after the government's Health Education Authority complained to ASA that the ads encourage young kids to smoke.M

Steve Downer in London contributed to this story.


20Countries like the U.K., where this controversial Regal ad ran, are still considering ad restrictions.

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