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Tobacco industry ads against plain packaging breached advertising code

Ruling came after complaints submitted by ASH and Cancer Research UK

Caroline White

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Anti-smoking campaigners have claimed victory against the tobacco industry following a ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about a series of ads against the introduction of plain standard packaging for cigarettes.

After complaints submitted by Action on Smoking in Health (ASH), ASH Scotland and Cancer Research UK, ASA has ruled that ads run by Japan Tobacco International (JTI) were misleading and must not be published again.

The ads were placed in the national press last year, as part of a £2m advertising campaign to oppose government plans to put all tobacco products in plain, standardised packs of uniform size, shape and design.

The ads stated that in 2008 the government had “rejected” plain packaging for tobacco because “there was no credible evidence” to support such a policy.

In its ruling, ASA noted that the government had included plain packaging as one of a number of issues during its consultation on tobacco control and that even though it had decided not to press ahead with plain packaging in 2008, it had intended to keep the measure under review.

Therefore ASA concluded that to suggest that the government had totally rejected the policy was misleading and breached the advertising code of practice.

In its adjudication ASA said: “We considered that readers of the ads would be likely to interpret the use of the word “rejected” to describe that decision as a more categorical action than had in fact been taken.”

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of ASH commented: “This is another blatant example of tobacco industry attempts to derail public health policy. The industry has a long history of distorting evidence and working covertly to minimise or overturn tobacco control measures.”

Stephen Williams MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health said that he would be notifying fellow parliamentarians of the ASA ruling to warn them that the tobacco industry funded “Hands Off Our Packs” campaign  was repeating the misleading wording used in the JTI ads in its lobbying of MPs.

“MPs should be aware that the claims made by JTI are false and misleading. The evidence is clear: plain packs will discourage children from taking up smoking and will prevent many young people from entering a life-long addiction resulting in poor health and premature death Tobacco companies know that plain packaging will deter new smokers and that is why they are fighting tooth and nail to stop it.”

Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UK’s executive director of policy and information, said: This decision again shows that the tobacco industry plays fast and loose with the facts. For years the tobacco industry denied the link between smoking and cancer, and has always opposed effective policies to cut smoking.

She added: It’s a shame that a misleading advert was able to reach such a large audience in several national newspapers thanks to the unprecedented millions of pounds JTI has committed to its campaign opposing standard packs.”

She said that 157,000 11 to 15 year olds start smoking in the UK each year so every effort had to be made to stop future generations becoming addicted to tobacco.

“Plain, standardised packs won’t stop everyone from starting smoking, but it will give millions of children one less reason to start,” she said.

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