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Tobacco politics in Britain and Europe

QUEEN ELIZABETH II's speech at the opening of the new British Parliament last week - effectively a statement of the new government's planned policies - included the intention to ban tobacco advertising in Great Britain. There is currently a voluntary agreement between the tobacco companies and the government over tobacco advertising - which dates back to the mid-1980s but it is likely that this will be ignored in the next few months as tobacco companies now have nothing to lose from advertising openly. It will take probably a year for the legislation to pass through all the necessary procedures.

The new government in Britain may also bring about a pan-European ban on tobacco advertising. The now-deposed Conservative government was an important player in blocking the 1991 European Directive calling for a total ban of tobacco advertising across Europe. The incoming Labor government looks likely to back the ban, which will stop tobacco advertising except at the point of sale and will include a ban on indirect advertising through branded clothing.

The battle has been going on since June 1985 when the European Council of Ministers approved a program called "Europe Against Cancer". The European Commission - which initiates European Union policy - then proposed an EU-wide ban but anti-tobacco campaigners were unable to get the 54% vote needed for the proposals to be confirmed by the Council of Ministers. Britain, Denmark, Greece, Germany and Holland all voted against the ban but Holland is already saying that it will switch camps if Britain votes for the legislation when the European health ministers meet in early June. It would then take around a year for the directive to get through the European parliament.

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