New ISBA chief must solve tobacco issues

When Nestlé UK chairman and chief executive Peter Blackburn took up the presidency of the Incorporated Society for British Advertisers last week, he was plunged into a complex web of relationships with other trade bodies representing the marke

When Nestlé UK chairman and chief executive Peter Blackburn took up the presidency of the Incorporated Society for British Advertisers last week, he was plunged into a complex web of relationships with other trade bodies representing the marketing industry.

Blackburn has a number of issues to address. For example, the dispute between advertisers and the actors’ union Equity has yet to be resolved. And ISBA’s view on the Green Paper on commercial communications has still to be formulated.

One unenviable task will need immediate attention. As president of ISBA – a body that represents UK advertisers, which each pay a membership fee linked to their ad spend – Blackburn will also be met with a fresh call to arms against the tobacco advertising ban.

Blackburn is being urged by Simon Mahoney, the recently-appointed chairman of the Institute of Sales Promotion, to make ISBA do more to protect the freedom of the marketing and advertising industry. The platform is to be the battle against the tobacco advertising ban – which Mahoney argues is an issue of principle upon which all marketing and advertising bodies should make a stand.

The ban, he says, is the thin end of a wedge which could presage advertising restrictions on other products, such as alcohol and toys.

As chairman of the ISP, Mahoney plans to write to other trade associations whose members are affected by the tobacco advertising ban. He believes they are not doing enough to oppose the ban, and will encourage them to increase their lobbying of government and Brussels.

“The problem is that certain associations are adopting a laissez faire attitude,” says Mahoney.

Over recent weeks rumours have been circulating in the ad industry that two tobacco manufacturers, Gallaher and Rothmans, are about to pull out of ISBA over what they feel is a lack of support in their fight against the European Union directive banning tobacco advertising and sponsorship.

Chris Ogden, director of trade and industry affairs at the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association, denies this. “We believe firmly in membership of bodies such as ISBA and we believe they a have a role to play. We are maintaining membership of as many organisations as we can and we like them to speak up for us.”

ISBA’s director general John Hooper also denies that the tobacco members are about to leave. “Neither Gallaher nor Rothmans at any time over the past three years have come to us at ISBA saying ‘will you become more active in what you are doing?’,” he says.

However, he admits that it is difficult for a trade body to create a consensus between members, some of whom are set on defending every freedom and others who view those members as extremists.

One advertising industry source claims that the tobacco manufacturers had wanted to pull out of ISBA much earlier, but only stayed because the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association urged them to, fearing that if they withdrew, it would leave ISBA free to come out in favour of the ban. The TMA denies this too.

Some might say that Mahoney’s call to arms comes too late as the EU directive has already passed all its hurdles in Europe. Implementation in individual member states remains on the agenda and the UK Government’s White Paper setting out how it will be achieved in this country is scheduled for the autumn.

As for any last-minute stand, ISBA’s Hooper says: “It’s far too late now – it’s a done deal. There are lots of other battles over the horizon for tougher and more contentious product restrictions.”

But the tobacco industry has not given up. Gallaher, Imperial, Rothmans and British American Tobacco have been given leave to pursue judicial review proceedings against the Scientific Committee on Tobacco & Health report which the Government is considering as it drafts the White Paper.

The German government is also due to challenge the legality of the EU directive at the European Court of Justice.

The Advertising Association has done most of the lobbying of MEPs and the UK Government on behalf of the tobacco manufacturers. It has drawn up a Position Paper for the advertising industry with the support of ISBA and the IPA, which was sent to junior health minister Tessa Jowell last September. The basis of the report is that “if it is legal to sell, it should be legal to advertise responsibly”.

Andrew Brown, director general of the Advertising Association, says: “I don’t think the industry is divided. We are in a position where the industry is not likely to have its views accepted. That’s not because the views have not been put, it’s because the Government disagrees.”

Trade bodies do not have the right to challenge the EU directive through the courts, unlike member states such as Germany. Any influence they can have at this stage must be directed at the UK Government, as it draws up its White Paper. Until that is published, the AA feels there is little point in antagonising the Government with a barrage of protests.

But for Mahoney, if trade bodies give up now, they will show they are weak and unable to stand up to further advertising and marketing restrictions which could come from Europe.

Blackburn will have to decide whether to support this campaigning platform, or to continue the softly-softly approach which ISBA has pursued until now.

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