When the Government announced two weeks ago that it was to clamp
down on the promotion of tobacco products, media coverage focused
primarily on the potential impact on above-the-line advertising and
Print and billboard advertising of cigarettes and other tobacco products
will be banned after 10 December this year, while the majority of
sponsorship by tobacco companies will be halted by 2003.
But as they stand, the proposals extend far wider than advertising and
sponsorship. In its current consultation document, Draft Tobacco
(Prohibition of Advertising and Promotion) Regulations 1999, advertising
is defined as ’any form of commercial communication with the aim or the
direct or indirect effect of promoting a tobacco product’.
It is a definition in line with that used by the European Commission,
whose directive on tobacco promotion the Government is looking to
implement ahead of schedule.
Aside from the haste with which the regulations are being put in place,
one of the main worries of the tobacco industry is the broad scope of
its meaning. The deep-felt concern is that the new regulatory
environment will severely curtail their ability to carry out PR.
A two-month consultation process between the tobacco industry and the
Government has already begun and appears to be a vital exercise, given
that the exact nature of all the limitations to be imposed on
communications remain uncertain.
’There is a lot of confusion both inside and outside Government circles
as to the interpretation of the regulations,’ Tobacco Manufacturers’
Association public affairs director John Carlisle says.
’What if a journalist and I are at a party and I, as a representative of
the tobacco industry, offer a cigarette? Does that mean that, as it’s
free, it’s promotion? That’s nonsense. That’s why the interpretation
According to the Department of Health, tactics such as sending out press
releases, organising photocalls, hosting receptions, putting up web
sites and funding community projects will all be prohibited if they are
in any way seen as being designed to promote cigarettes to
’It’s all forms of communication which would result in tobacco promotion
reaching the general public,’ says a DoH spokesperson. ’Some people will
find they are unable to do work they could hitherto do.’
Imperial Tobacco general manager external affairs Paul Sadler is fairly
confident ’normal’ communications with the trade, shareholders and
internally with staff will be able to continue broadly unchanged.
Brook Wilkinson chairman Rosemary Brook, public affairs adviser to the
Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association, adds: ’I can’t personally see any
reason why corporate communications would be affected, including
information on a corporation itself or its views on important
But there are sure to be grey areas. Where exactly will tobacco
promotion be deemed to end and legitimate corporate communications
begin? What, if anything, will the tobacco companies be able to say
about their brands on a corporate web site?
Rothmans public affairs manager Nicky Donnelly, together with the rest
of the tobacco industry, wants to see more clarity as to where the
communications restrictions will end. ’As an industry in the public
domain, there are issues people will seek reference on that are separate
from the brand,’ she says.
Corporate communication will be allowed so long as it is not linked to
product promotion or in any way directly intended to encourage tobacco
consumption. It is easy to keep corporate and consumer communication
separate on issues like tax levels imposed on tobacco products, or the
latest medical opinion on specific dangers of smoking. But the line
between the two can be blurred when it comes to general business issues
like the company’s performance.
Both the tobacco companies and campaigners like Clive Bates, director of
anti-smoking pressure group ASH, believe the grey areas to be found in
the new regulatory system will be tested in the courts.
Bates does not think there are ’freedom of speech or civil liberties
questions’ to be addressed as a result of the Government’s measures, but
he stresses that he would not like to see regulation being interpreted
in such a way that it prevents the tobacco industry from making its
views known on important issues - so long as in the process it does not
promote any product.
The regulations also clamp down on so-called brand-stretching, where
tobacco product names are applied to non-tobacco products, and direct
marketing to consumers, even if they are known to be smokers aged 18 or
Brook adds that the Government’s measures should be of concern to other
industries. She says: ’There’s a possible knock-on effect for other
industries in the future, making this a subject worthy of discussion.
But because it’s the tobacco industry it’s easy for people to walk
Few have track records as damning as tobacco’s: the Government’s draft
regulations state that smoking kills 120,000 people per annum in the UK
and costs the NHS between #1.4 and #1.7 billion.
But businesses like alcoholic drinks manufacturers, which recently faced
controversy over the appeal of alcopops to underage drinkers, should
stay on their guard.