Profile: John Carlisle, Tobacco Manufacturers Association - Making a play for the ashes/John Carlisle leaves the Tory Party behind to light up the tobacco debate

As had been heavily foreshadowed, last week’s Queen’s Speech contained a commitment by the new Labour government to introduce legislation banning cigarette advertising. Such a step would be a tremendous blow for the tobacco companies who view advertising as one of the best means at their disposal for securing market share.

As had been heavily foreshadowed, last week’s Queen’s Speech

contained a commitment by the new Labour government to introduce

legislation banning cigarette advertising. Such a step would be a

tremendous blow for the tobacco companies who view advertising as one of

the best means at their disposal for securing market share.



In order to protect its interests, the tobacco industry intends to

oppose the Government vigorously. The man who will lead this campaign is

controversial former conservative MP John Carlisle, who on election day

joined the Tobacco Manufacturers Association as executive director for

industry affairs.



Carlisle decided to bring his 18-year Parliamentary career to a close

last summer, and when discussions with the TMA led to an offer to take

over from the retiring Clive Turner, he jumped at the chance. Boundary

changes to what had been a safe Luton seat led him to believe it would

prove tough to get re-elected. He stood down and the seat, like so many

others, is now in Labour hands.



’The boundary changes weren’t favourable and it was going to be a job to

hold it,’ says Carlisle. ’And I’d been at variance with the government

over Europe, I was unhappy with the way things were going and, as I was

in my mid-50s, I thought if I left it any longer it would be too late to

start another career.’



But why the TMA? Surely the job places him in the firing line of the

anti-smoking lobby? ’I didn’t need to hesitate because I’m used to

controversy and brickbats,’ he answers.



That is almost an understatement. The phrase politically correct could

have been invented to express the exact opposite of John Carlisle’s

beliefs.



An ardent Thatcherite Eurosceptic, he enjoys shooting game and recently

strove to ’hold the line against the banners’ in the post-Dunblane

clampdown on handguns. But he is best known for his opposition to the

sporting boycott of South Africa during the apartheid years, which he

argued should be lifted while he was chairman of both the Conservative

Backbench Sports Committee and the British South Africa Group.



His stance on South Africa outraged many. On one infamous occasion, he

was attacked by anti-apartheid students at Bradford University,

suffering a broken wrist.



Carlisle is not himself a smoker. He objects, however, to interference

from the ’nanny state’ and says he is a staunch defender of ’individual

freedom of choice’ - a comment that might provoke bitter laughter in

Soweto.



The proposed advertising ban, he asserts, is intolerant of the nation’s

estimated 15 million smokers, who contribute a much-needed pounds 10.5

billion to the Exchequer through taxation of their habit. Moreover,

Carlisle maintains, advertising only stimulates loyalty to or switching

between brands. It is not, he says, a factor in encouraging people to

smoke.



’If you look at countries where there have been advertising bans, the

facts show that it doesn’t affect consumption,’ he says in between

fielding calls on his mobile phone as we sit in his office less than a

stone’s throw away from his former colleagues at Tory Central

Office.



He will use statistics on other countries in his campaign against the

proposed legislation, together with evidence that the tobacco industry

has been trying to put its own house in order with initiatives such as

the ’no excuses’ programme devised to educate retailers that they should

not sell cigarettes to youngsters under any circumstances.



Yet Labour’s massive majority and new-found, Blair-enforced discipline,

makes it difficult to see how the TMA will succeed. Especially with a

well-known right wing Tory heading the campaign. Perhaps, given the

election outcome, somebody with Labour connections might have been a

safer bet for the position of spearheading the tobacco industry’s

resistance.



But, when all is said and done, it looks improbable that anybody from

either side of the political fence will be able to prevent the tobacco

industry’s right to advertise disappearing in a puff of smoke.



HIGHLIGHTS

1978

Grain buyer, Louis Dreyfus

1979

MP Luton West

1997

Executive director for industry affairs, Tobacco Manufacturers

Association



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