Upcoming legislation banning tobacco advertising will be backed by a strong set of teeth, with transgressors facing a fine of up to £5,000 – or even three months imprisonment.

The penalties are included in the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill, due for its second reading in the Commons in January. The criminalisation of press and outdoor tobacco advertising is expected to become law before the general election, widely tipped for May 2001. Other media bans will be phased-in later.

The proposed Bill is substantially the same as the European Union directive on tobacco promotion, which was blocked earlier this year by the European Court of Justice. But it differs in one key respect: anyone who publishes, prints, devises or distributes a tobacco ad in the United Kingdom, or causes one to be printed, will be guilty of an offence carrying maximum penalties up to a fine of £5,000 or three months in jail – or both. Obstruction of an enforcement officer investigating a breach of the law would incur a fine of up to £3,000.

The Bill also closes the ‘brand-stretching’ loophole, with the Department of Health able to outlaw the use of any name, emblem or feature which is the same or similar to that used in a tobacco product.

Ads on UK-based websites will also be prohibited, although the ban cannot be extended to those located overseas. But the DoH will have the power to introduce rules covering "developments in technology relating to publishing or distributing by electronic means".

However, a study of the Bill’s small print implies that direct marketing of tobacco products will not fall foul of the law if an advertisement is enclosed with a response to a request for information. A similar scenario already operates whereby adult smokers must "opt in" before receiving direct mail.

News Source: CampaignLive (UK)