Tobacco manufacturers have lost a UK court battle with the government over restrictions on point of sale advertising.

The cigarette companies, led by British American Tobacco and a vending machine operator, claimed the restrictions imposed by Tony Blair's administration interfered with their commercial freedom of speech.

The rules govern the size and location of ads promoting cigarettes in shops, bars and clubs.

High Court Judge McCombe, who heard the case, said: "Given the enormous health risks and economic costs to society caused by smoking tobacco and a substantial weight of expert opinion as to the effects of advertising, I believe it to have been a responsible and proportionate step."

The tobacco companies have been given leave to appeal the decision but have not decided how to proceed.

Meanwhile, says Tim Lord, chief executive of the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association: "We remain very concerned that these regulations will prevent smokers from receiving a reasonable level of information about products."

The companies argue that the rules prevent them from telling consumers about the characteristics of their products so new brands cannot be established in the market. So draconian are the rules that they are effectively a ban on information about legal products.

However, continues Lord: "The companies will work closely with retailers to implement the regulations by the date set."

The rules, which come into effect next month, allow just one A5 size advertisement in each establishment, and one third of each ad must be devoted to a health warning. All other POS tobacco advertising will be banned.

The government and UK anti-smoking charities welcomed the decision, which they say will protect children "who see tobacco advertising alongside sweets and magazines in shops."

Data sourced from BBC Online; additional content by WARC staff