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Tuesday, 4 December, 2001, 00:08 GMT
Ministers 'undermine anti-smoking drive'
Many smokers appeared to be swayed by the government's stance
Delays in the banning of tobacco advertising encourages many smokers to believe that it is safe, a poll suggests.

Despite almost overwhelming publicity on the dangers of smoking, which include lung cancer, heart disease and several other killer diseases, the survey for anti-smoking lobby group ASH indicates that the message may not be getting through.

And it suggests that the government's delay in moving to outlaw tobacco advertising may be contributing to the problem.

No doubt these results will come as a nasty shock to ministers

John Connolly, ASH public affairs manager
The ban was a manifesto pledge in both 1997 and 2001, but has failed to make it into law under Labour.

A Bill halting advertising was itself stopped by a lack of parliamentary time in the run-up to last year's general election.

Smokers, former smokers and non-smokers were surveyed by ICM.

More than half of both smokers and non-smokers felt that the tobacco advertising ban delay meant the government was not concerned about the number of people smoking.

Just under half of smokers said they believed that if smoking was really dangerous, the government would have acted sooner to ban advertising.

'Beggars belief'

John Connolly, ASH public affairs manager, said: "It simply beggars belief that, 40 years after we first found out about the dangers of smoking, half of all smokers still don't appreciate just how dangerous cigarettes are.

"No doubt these results will come as a nasty shock to ministers - I'm sure they genuinely do want to see a reduction in the 120,000 people who die every year in the UK from smoking.

"But they need to realise that they will be judged on their actions, and their attitude to cigarette advertising sends a very powerful message about their attitude to smoking as a whole."

The majority of adults said that society did have the right to regulate cigarette advertisements.

Most said they felt the tobacco industry lied to the public about its motives and business, and that it couldn't be trusted to regulate itself through voluntary codes.

The government is ploughing millions into trying to wean people off cigarettes, including allowing the prescription of the drug Zyban, which can help people fight the nicotine cravings.

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