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Tuesday, May 19, 1998 Published at 16:18 GMT 17:18 UK

The business of selling cigarettes

Trying to find new smokers is not easy

Advertising executives managing the marketing budgets of big tobacco companies are bracing themselves for hard times. During the coming years, the European Union will be cracking down on tobacco advertising, first banning it on film, then in print; by 2006 all tobacco sponsorship deals will be outlawed.

But there are loopholes, and the tobacco industry is benefiting from them.

One example is films, both in cinemas and on television. The number of film stars seen smoking on the screen is the highest in years. According to Britain's Health Education Authority (HEA), between 1990 and 1995 the instances of smoking in films increased four-fold, while the appearance of cigarette brands has gone up by 600%.

[ image: Advertising, old style]
Advertising, old style
Anti-smoking campaigners say film stars who are smoking are effectively 'advertising' a product - or at least a lifestyle.

This does not necessarily involve any financial incentives from the tobacco companies.

However, Amanda Sandford from the pressure group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) thinks it is highly likely: "If the brand is seen in the film, it is a form of promotion, and one can assume that money has crossed hands."

ASH points to documented cases in which the tobacco industry paid film stars or fashion magazines to use their products.

Phillip Morris, for example, has confirmed that it paid $350,000 to place Lark cigarettes in the James Bond movie Licence to Kill, and $42,000 to have Marlboro featured in Superman II.

European legislation would not prevent product placement in films made outside the EU, for example, in Hollywood, USA. And it certainly cannot stop smoking in films when the tobacco companies are not paying for it.

Looking for loopholes

Smoking in films is just one of many ways in which cigarettes could continue to be promoted even after the European ban comes into effect.

[ image: Hamlet cigars were only introduced by B&H after cigarettes were banned from British television screens.]
Hamlet cigars were only introduced by B&H after cigarettes were banned from British television screens.
In the past, tobacco companies have always shown ingenuity in working their way round advertising restrictions.

A striking example is how British advertisers use a single colour to instantly communicate a brand of cigarettes: the silky mauve imagery of Silk Cut cigarettes, or the red of Marlboro, for example.

There has also been a proliferation of new products trading under the brand name of tobacco companies, such as Marlboro memorabilia and Camel clothes and shoes.

The European Union hopes to ban such forms of indirect advertising as far as possible.

It will prohibit tobacco companies from promoting their cigarettes by marketing new, unrelated products.

Many people, though, anticipate that tobacco companies will find ways to beat the ban.

Brand stretching

For example, the ban does not stop companies from using their brand name when promoting products that already exist, as long as they are produced by separate companies.

[ image: But it's not tobacco]
But it's not tobacco
Anticipating this, many leading tobacco companies are already setting up new firms to introduce non-tobacco products to the market before the ban takes effect.

If such a new firm is profitable in its own right, the tobacco company can continue to use its established names and logos, or - if necessary - alter them only slightly.

For instance, British American Tobacco (BAT), who market Benson & Hedges cigarettes in Malaysia, is promoting a new range of tea and coffee under the brand name Benson & Hedges.

There is also a 'Benson & Hedges' bistro in Malaysia, where the menus, sugar sachets, matchboxes and staff's shirts are all illustrated with Benson & Hedges cigarette packets.

Some observers believe many such outlets will follow.

Ambient media

The EU tobacco ban will target everything from ads in newspapers and magazines to sponsorship of sports events.

But the decision on how to regulate promotion at the point of sale will be left to individual member countries.

Amanda Sandford from ASH sees this as one of the key loopholes.

"This happened in New Zealand, and the tobacco companies just produced huge price lists, which amounted to advertising posters," she says.

Tobacco companies may also be allowed to use other media which have not been explicitly banned, promoting their products, for example, on bus tickets or food cartons.

Earlier this year, the advertising group Maiden signed a deal with Railtrack, which owns Britain's mainline railway stations. Maiden will manage all advertising space on the train stations, and has already described the sites as an attractive option for tobacco companies to use.

Billboard and cinema advertisements will be illegal within three years, and those in newspapers and magazines will be outlawed a year later, according to the European directive approved by the 15 member states of the European Union last December.

Sponsorship of sport and cultural events must end by October 2005, with a further year's grace for "world events" such as the Formula One grand prix.

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