Tobacco companies are flouting the ban on consumer advertising because it is unworkable, Trading Standards chiefs have claimed.
Senior officials said they now planned to ask the government to clarify ambiguities in the Tobacco Advertising and Promotions Act because they feared manufacturers were exploiting it.
Officers claim that “grey areas” in the legislation, which became law in February last year, have hindered investigations and made the Act difficult to enforce.
Hackney Trading Standards criticised the law for being “too woolly” after it was unable to proceed with an investigation involving Gallaher. The authority was acting on a complaint about an article on Formula One racing that appeared in Maxim magazine last August. The complainant said the piece went beyond editorial and promoted Gallaher’s Benson & Hedges cigarettes because it was “plastered full of branding”.
A spokeswoman for Hackney Trading Standards said that it had judged the feature to be outside “the spirit of the law” and discussed the matter with the publishers.
However, officers were unable to take further action because the law was “fuzzy”.
Meanwhile, Bristol Trading Standards is still investigating another case that involves a promotion for Imperial Tobacco’s Superkings, four months after the Department of Health said it breached the Act. Officers said a verdict would not be reached for several weeks on the legality of the promotion which gave away cigarette cards featuring old ads (The Grocer, September 6, 2003, p6).
Tony Northcote, spokesman for the Trading Standards Institute, said: “The government needs to look at the legislation and make it precise. Trading Standards don’t have the resources to take on the big boys and if there is room for doubt in the law it needs to be clarified. In my experience, if a company disagrees it can cost us up to £6,000 to get legal advice. We don’t have the resources.”
Amanda Sandford, research manager at campaigners Action on Smoking and Health, said: “This shows the potential loophole in the law. Tobacco companies appear to be testing the water to see what they can get away with.”
No one at the DoH was available to comment. A spokeswoman for Gallaher said the company received a letter from Trading Standards but that officers’ further investigation determined the activity as legal.
A spokesman for Imperial said: “We do not believe that the inserts contravene any part of the Act.”
Rosie Davenport