Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Bye Bye Winston... ?

EU ban on tobacco advertising * F Oliva reports

Tobacco sponsorship of sports in Gibraltar once a regular contributor to its development and practice on the Rock, will soon become a thing of the past following an EU wide prohibition that came into effect at the beginning of the week.

The ban will affect the promotion of international sporting and cultural events by tobacco companies throughout the European Union.

And Gibraltar has been preparing itself for what was coming for a number of years now, and companies like Anglo Hispano and Saccone and Speed that were traditionally engaged in these activities, have long switched to other products or stopped doing it altogether.

On August 1st the extensive ban on the advertising of tobacco in newspapers, radio and internet came into effect in all member states.

Cultural and sporting sponsorships, notably in Formula One racing will come to an end within the next 12 months.

However it is unclear how the directive will apply to Gibraltar, if at all, since successive bans and restrictions that make headline news in other European countries, seem to have little effect on the Rock.

At present there are no laws making it illegal to advertise tobacco products in Gibraltar, and it is not even compulsory for cigarette packets to carry a health warning. It is only because these are placed at the countries of origin that we see packets carrying a health warning.

Furthermore since the sale of tobacco continues to be a huge source of revenue for government coffers, commercial imperatives have dictated that the kind of legislation that has become standard in other EU member states is absent from our statute book.

Restrictive legislation for smoking in public buildings, transport, bars and restaurants introduced in other European countries do not exist on the Rock.

Even at the workplace there are no laws for segregation of smokers’ areas from non-smokers, and it is up to individual companies to apply their own rules.

EU Stats

According to EU figures 650,000 people die every year in Europe from a tobacco related disease, and with this measure Brussels are confident of achieving a drastic reduction in demand to 7% of the population.

It is estimated that no less than 34% of teenagers start smoking because of advertising in one form or another.

Meanwhile the European Union is expected to end its subsidies to tobacco growers as from 2006.

Gibraltar Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) general manager George Valarino confirmed that television stations including GBC, phased out its tobacco advertising in the mid-1990’s, with the first incarnations of the ‘television without borders’ directive.

In Gibraltar the law stopping tobacco advertising on television to comply with the ban to this effect was transposed into local legislation in 1995.

Saccone and Speed

Local tobacco suppliers are not unduly worried by the ban because they do not depend on advertising to sell their product.

According to Saccone and Speed General Manager Dennis Lafferty, “the ban is unlikely to have major effects” on their operation.

Mr Lafferty said the company did not advertise tobacco very strongly, and that although this will be a problem for the tobacco companies, for them [Saccone and Speed] as agents, the critical factor is the price differential with Spain.

“If we have to take down every advert in Main Street, it will still make little difference to us,” said Mr Lafferty.

As regards the sporting sponsorships, for instance, among other things they had sponsored rowing events in the past, Mr Lafferty said this had been phased out over the years and substituted with soft drinks or other products.

Anglo Hispano

Anglo Hispano spokesman Paul Romero said they had stopped promoting and advertising tobacco when they received instructions from the tobacco suppliers to do so.

The company had been a traditional sponsor of squash events in Gibraltar with Silk Cut and Benson and Hedges, but this had been gradually discontinued.

Mr Romero said he did not believe the ban will have much effect on sales since it was the price differential with Spain and the fact that they sell cheap cigarettes that attracted buyers.

However he reckons that when Governments decide to “kill off tobacco once and for all they will do it.”

Mr Romero said they were “not proud” of this product but they satisfied a market demand. He also declared that companies in Gibraltar had not been advertising tobacco for a long time and that the promotion of any new brand would now become very difficult.

Mr Romero also recalled some of the ways round advertising restrictions that companies had devised. The famous Larios gin had launched their Larios snacks, while Winston had also produced a line of footwear. He said the pressure will now be on the government to “whack up prices” by increasing the duty noting that in UK a carton of tobacco can cost between £50 and £60.

On the question of sport, he said this is an area that will suffer from the withdrawal of sponsors more than anything else.

Lewis Stagnetto

Maurice Stagnetto director of one of Gibraltar’s traditional tobacconists, confirmed that the directive will not apply to Gibraltar, since the local Government had never implemented such laws.

He explained that it was largely due to instructions from their principals that they do not advertise in magazines or publications that can be seen by children. Mr Stagnetto said it was through self regulation that tobacco companies agreed five years ago not to use promotional material or giftware any longer.

He declared that they had discontinued giving out plastic bags with tobacco brand names and this only featured where it was not seen, for instance in tags or flip-flops, but not written across the front of a baseball cap.

Mr Stagnetto said that the ban will make a difference for some of the sports that now rely heavily on tobacco sponsors.

He said that although it is thought other companies will come in and fill the gap, it was unlikely that the billions of pounds poured by tobacco sponsors in sports over the years will be matched, and that this will become evident in the medium to long term.

Sports and tobacco “divorced for some time,” says Hernandez

Sports associations took a lead on the banning of tobacco sponsorships for sporting events years ago including on the Rock, local Sports Authority Chief Executive Joe Hernandez told the Chronicle yesterday.

International sporting federations had banned both tobacco and hard liquor from its events and today it is mainly the motor sports – Formula One, motorcycling and speedboat racing – that continue to rely on it.

Speaking to the Chronicle Mr Hernandez said the ban would not have much of an effect because “sport and tobacco have been divorced for some time.”

However he did see that other types of events that attracted tobacco sponsorships like cultural spectacles or others that were not subject to the ban applied to sports, could now suffer. Bus stops, airports and other public display areas will now have to fill their advertising space with a few less potential advertisers with a lot of money to spend.

Mr Hernandez argued that these tobacco companies had proved extremely inventive over the years to overcome restrictions, noting the famous silent Silk Cut ad that had allowed them to advertise the brand in a subtle yet easily recognisable way.

“They will probably find ways and means of going round the problem,” he added.

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