New research from ICM suggests the British government’s foot-dragging over a ban on tobacco advertising has convinced many smokers that the habit may not be as hazardous as portrayed.

Commissioned by anti-smoking body Ash, the survey of smokers found that 46% thought the government’s inaction meant that smoking can not be that dangerous after all, since if it were ministers would have imposed an advertising ban.

Moreover, 54% agreed that procrastination in outlawing tobacco ads suggested the government is not worried about the number of smokers.

“It simply beggars belief that, forty years after we first found out about the dangers of smoking, half of all smokers still don't appreciate just how dangerous cigarettes are,” fumed Ash’s public affairs manager John Connolly. “This poll shows the government’s actions – or lack of them – have an effect on how the public, especially smokers, perceive these risks.”

Ash wants ministers to support a private members’ bill calling for an ad ban currently passing through the House of Lords. Although the bill, introduced by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Clement-Jones, has gained a great deal of support, it stands scant chance of becoming law without government help.

The governing Labour Party included the outlawing of tobacco advertising in its manifestos for both the 1997 and 2001 general elections. However, a bill to do so vanished from the legislative line-up soon after this year’s landslide victory [WAMN: 19-Jun-01].

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