Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Imperial Tobacco Group PLC




  81.  Unlike in other countries, for example the USA, there has been close co-operation between the Government and the UK tobacco companies on smoking and health issues over the last 40 years. This co-operation has enabled the Government to achieve:

    —  a unique regulatory system for the control of the sale of tobacco products;

    —  substantial reductions in tar and nicotine yields in the UK;

    —  unchallenged public health messages; and

    —  a major reduction in total cigarette consumption in the UK.

  82.  Imperial has played an important part in this process. It has willingly participated in discussions with the Government and its advisers and negotiated a series of voluntary agreements with the Government regulating the sale of tobacco. It has been committed to complying with both the letter and the spirit of these agreements.


  83.  As described previously in this memorandum, by the late 1960s, there already existed a relationship of constructive dialogue between Imperial and the Government and its advisors. This dialogue covered many issues, in particular scientific research, product modification and the publication of information about tar and nicotine yields.

  84.  In 1970, Imperial and the other UK tobacco companies held a series of meetings with the Secretary of State for Health in which they discussed issues relating to smoking and health. The discussions led to the establishment of the Cohen Committee in 1971 to advise the Secretary of State for Health on the scientific aspects of smoking and health issues. It was specifically to advise on the potential significance to health of the tar and nicotine yields of cigarettes and how information on the yields and their possible significance to health could best be made available to the public. In addition to independent scientists, representatives of the tobacco companies, including Imperial, were appointed to the Committee. Its recommendations are set out in paragraph 37 above.

  85.  The co-operation between Government and UK tobacco company representatives continued after the establishment of the ISCSH by the Government in 1973.


  86.  Between 1971 and 1995, the effective dialogue between Imperial, the other UK tobacco companies and Government resulted in 20 voluntary agreements covering:

    —  advertising and labelling;

    —  sports sponsorship;

    —  product modification; and

    —  additives.

  87.  These provided a progessive regime of regulation controlling the sale of tobacco products which addressed issues as they were raised by the Government.

(A)  Advertising and Labelling

  88.  The first voluntary agreement was announced in 1971 by the Secretary of State for Social Services,Sir Keith Joseph, following meetings between the Department of Health and Social Security and representatives of the TAC. He said that:

    "The tobacco manufacturers have agreed voluntarily—and I would like to pay tribute to the responsible and helpful way in which they have approached these discussions—to print in clear type a warning on each cigarette packet . . . "[153]

  89.  The agreement recorded that "the cigarette manufacturers . . . have, at the request of the Secretary of State for Social Services, agreed that all packets of cigarettes produced by them for the UK Trade should carry a Government health warning". The agreement also recorded that cigarette advertisements "in newspapers and magazines and on posters published in the UK should carry a reference to the Government warning that appears on the pack".

  90.  The printed warning—the size, type, colour and clarity of which were also subject to the agreement—read:

    "Warning by HM Government.

    Smoking can damage your health."

  91.  Subsequent agreements recorded the voluntary acceptance by Imperial and the other UK tobacco companies of progressively tighter restrictions on their ability to advertise their products.

  92.  The 1974 agreement resulted in the inclusion of warnings (or reference to the warnings) on every Imperial advertisement published in the UK in newspapers and magazines, on posters and cinema screens and in promotional leaflets, brochures, consumer catalogues and circular letters. In addition, Imperial agreed to print the following Government health warning on cigarette packets inserts, or coupons:

    "Advice by HM Government

    If you do smoke cigarettes

    Leave a Long Stub.

    Remove from mouth between puffs.

    Inhale less.

    Take fewer puffs."

  93.  Imperial agreed also to print the brand tar yield group on its cigarette packs. However, the 1976 agreement prohibited the quoting of tar or nicotine yields on the pack, and stated that:

    "The tar group should never be incorporated in a brand name eg "Embassy Low Tar" would not be permissible as a brand name".

  94.  In the 1977 agreement, Imperial agreed that the wording of the warning should be changed to:

    "HM Government Health Departments' Warning:

    Cigarettes can seriously damage your health"

  95.  Under the 1981 agreement, Imperial agreed to "discontinue forthwith the advertising in press, posters and cinemas of cigarette brands yielding 20mg of tar or more", and to reduce its expenditure on advertising. New forms of wording were also agreed. Pack warnings, which were to be larger than previously agreed, were to include the following:

    "Danger:  HM Government Health Departments' Warning:

    Smoking may cost you more than money"


    "Danger:  HM Government Health Departments' Warning:

    The more you smoke the more you risk your health"

  96.  Similarly, on advertisements the following additional warnings were to be printed:

    "Danger: HM Government Health Departments' Warning:

    Think first—most doctors don't smoke"


    "Danger:  HM Government Health Departments' Warning:

    Think about the health risks before smoking"

  97.  Under the voluntary agreement of 1983, Imperial agreed not to advertise or promote cigarette brands yielding 19mg or more of tar, which in 1986 was extended further to include brands yielding 18mg or more. In addition, Imperial agreed progressively to reduce even further its advertising expenditure in 1983 and again in 1986. The latter agreement also provided that no advertisements were to be placed near buildings, schools or playgrounds "predominantly used by young people under 18 years of age". From 1986 Imperial printed six new (larger) warnings on its packs and advertising, including the following:

    "Warning: Smoking can cause fatal diseases"

    "Warning: Smoking can cause heart disease"

    "Stopping smoking reduces the risk of serious diseases"

  98.  In 1991, 1992 and 1994 Imperial voluntarily agreed further restrictions on its advertising. The effectiveness of this co-operation was acknowledged by the Secretary of State for Health in October, 1992 when she stated:

    "As for advertising, we will maintain and—where necessary—strengthen what is already one of the most advanced, comprehensive and effective systems of voluntary control in Europe".[154]

  99.  In summary, the system of voluntary agreements on advertising and labelling arising out of the co-operation between Government and Imperial and the other UK tobacco companies provided Government with a comprehensive system of regulatory control. Commenting on the value of the advertising voluntary agreements in its Action Plan ("Smoke-Free for Health") of February 1994, the Ministry of Health said that:

    "The Government continues to believe that voluntary arrangements with the industry are the best way of controlling tobacco advertising. These agreements have proved an effective way of controlling tobacco advertising and promotion. The agreements have also proved sufficiently flexible to respond to particular concerns in a way which legislation cannot do."[155]


  100.  The four voluntary agreements of 1977, 1982, 1987 and 1995, dealing expressly with sports sponsorship, have resulted in progressively tighter restrictions on the ability of Imperial and the other UK tobacco companies to sponsor sports and sporting events. For example, under the 1982 agreement, Imperial agreed to limit its expenditure on sports sponsorship and to restrict the display of sponsors signs and other types of promotion. In addition, Imperial agreed to inform the Department of the Environment of their plans for sports sponsorship, as well as changes to those plans.

  101.  The Committee for Monitoring Agreements on Tobacco Advertising and Sponsorship ("COMATAS") monitors the operation of the voluntary agreements. The Committee is comprised of representatives of Government Departments, Imperial and other UK tobacco companies and has an independent chairman who is appointed with the agreement of appropriate Ministers. Its responsibilities are to ensure that there is compliance with the voluntary agreements and provide clarification where necessary. An annual report is provided to Government Ministers on the general implementation of the agreement.

  102.  In July 1999, the Chairman said in his covering letter to the Secretary of State for Health:

    "I have been the Chairman for four and a half years, and throughout that time both sides of the Committee, though of course bringing different perspectives to bear, have worked constructively and positively together so as to provide what I believe has been effective monitoring of the Voluntary Agreements. I should like to pay a warm tribute to all my colleagues, past and present, for the contributions which they have made"[156]


  103.  Under the chairmanship of Dr Robert Hunter and, later, Dr Peter Froggatt, the ISCSH designed and promoted, through a series of voluntary agreements, "the product modification programme". Robert Waller (of the Department of Health) and Sir Peter Froggatt have written that:

    " . . . the programme designed by ISCSH, agreed by the tobacco industry, and negotiated by Government with the Tobacco Advisory Council (TAC) as part of a series of so-called `voluntary agreements' in 1973, 1977, 1980 and 1984 is known as the `product modification programme'. No country then, or since, has developed such a regulatory system".[157]

  104.  In each of the four reports published by the ISCSH, the Chairman noted the co-operation of the representatives of the UK tobacco companies, including Imperial.

  105.  In the First Report (1975) Dr Hunter expressed

    "gratitude to the representatives of companies which manufacture or import tobacco products in the United Kingdom and to the scientists and other organisations associated with these in the testing of tobacco substitutes for their co-operation".

  106.  In the Fourth Report (1988) Sir Peter Froggatt stated:

    "We continue to maintain a constructive working relationship with the tobacco industry as a whole as well as with individual companies".

  107.  As a result of the voluntary agreements on product modification and the considerable efforts of Imperial and the other UK tobacco companies to implement them successfully, average tar yields have fallen substantially, resulting in the UK being amongst the European countries with the lowest sales-weighted average tar yields. Average tar yields were also reduced earlier in the UK than in the rest of the EU. For example, the UK achieved 11mg in sales weighted average tar yield in 1993, but the EU average did not reach 11mg until 1997.


  108.  Unlike other countries, before 1970 UK law prohibited the use of additives without permission from the Commissioners of Customs and Excise, which was given only within very strict limits. From 1970, additives became subject to duty, and the previous restrictions on their use were relaxed by the Commissioners of Customs and Excise. However, statutory control over the use of additives in the manufacture of tobacco products remained in place until revision of the revenue system on 1 January 1978. From that time, Imperial and the other UK tobacco companies voluntarily agreed with the Government only to use additives with the consent of the ISCSH and to notify their use to the Department of Health.

  109.  Initial guidelines for the testing and use of products containing additives were drawn up by the ISCSH with the assistance of Imperial and the other UK tobacco companies. The ISCSH subsequently made further recommendations with respect to the testing and use of additives in tobacco products and the evaluation of additives in, for example, cigarette papers. In the Fourth Report the ISCSH stated that:

    "The system for additive submissions has continued to work well. The Committee will continue to ensure the safety of additives used in all smoked tobacco products".

  110.  After 1991, the responsibility for additives fell to the Scientific Secretariat at the DHSS. From 1994, responsibility rested with the Department of Health, taking advice from the Scientific Committee on Smoking and Health ("SCOTH"). The Committee produced revised guidelines for the approval of new tobacco additives, which Imperial and the other UK companies voluntarily agreed to follow under the 1997 voluntary agreement. Imperial has continued to co-operate with the Department of Health on issues of tobacco additives.

The Achievements of the Regime of Voluntary Agreements by 1995

  111.  The series of voluntary agreements that was entered into between the Government and Imperial and other UK tobacco companies between 1971 and 1995, led to a comprehensive regime of regulation over cigarette advertising, advertising expenditure, sales promotion, sports sponsorship and product modification. Imperial's approach to these voluntary agreements was that of a responsible tobacco company seeking to co-operate with the Government. It has been committed to complying with both the letter and the spirit of these agreements. By 1995, the regime of voluntary agreements had achieved very tight restrictions across the following areas:

    —  press and poster advertisements;

    —  shop front advertising material;

    —  other outdoor advertisements;

    —  point of sale advertising material;

    —  promotional activities;

    —  sports sponsorship;

    —  product modification.

(1)  Press and Poster Advertisements

  112.  Pre-clearance is required of all advertisements by the Advertising Standards Authority who issue a certificate of compliance for any advertisements which they approve. This is a procedure unique to cigarette and hand-rolling tobacco advertisements.

  113.  Each press and poster advertisement must contain a Government health warning of 20 per cent of the total area and include tar and nicotine yield information.

  114.  Each advertisement must comply with 14 detailed rules which control the content of the advertisement. For example, advertisements should NOT:

    —  suggest smoking is natural or healthy;

    —  suggest social or business success;

    —  be associated with heroic or well known people;

    —  show outdoor locations suggesting a healthy or wholesome lifestyle;

    —  show anyone who is or looks under 25;

    —  be positioned within a radius of 200 metres from places of education (if poster advertisements);

    —  if posters, be less than 10 feet by 20 feet in size (thereby limiting the total number of posters);

    —  appear in any press publication directed at young people aged under 18 or in women's magazines where women aged 15 to 24 comprise 25 per cent or more of the readership.

  115.  The level of expenditure on poster advertising is limited by a formula which resulted in poster advertising not exceeding 30 per cent of the 1980 level by April 1995, subject to allowances for inflation.

(2)  Shop Front Advertising Material

  116.  In 1995, it was agreed with the Government that, by 31 December 1996, all shop front advertising material would be removed. These included:

    —  fascias;

    —  illuminated/non-illuminated hanging/protecting signs;

    —  wallboards;

    —  blinds/awnings;

    —  glass or plastic pelmets;

    —  window friezes;

    —  full window dressings;

    —  adhesive backed pelmets.

(3)  Other Outdoor Advertisements

  117.  No advertising is allowed on the exterior of vehicles including vehicles owned or contracted to Imperial and the other UK tobacco companies.

  118.  No advertising is permitted at cinemas or on video cassettes for sale or hire in the UK or on computer games.

  119.  Advertisements are not permitted on banners towed from aeroplanes, airships or hot air balloons.

(4)  Point of Sale Advertising Material

  120.  This material has to comply with the same guidelines for content as press and poster advertisements. Each advertisement must contain a health warning covering a minimum of 10 per cent of the total area and sometimes as large as 15 per cent (depending on the type of material involved).

(5)  Promotional Activities

  121.  These are only allowed to be directed to existing smokers who are aged 18 or over. In addition, it is not permitted to deliver unaddressed or anonymously addressed promotional offers. Envelopes must carry the words "ONLY FOR ADULT SMOKERS" in a prominent position. Furthermore, all application forms for promotional offers require the applicant to sign a statement that they are a smoker aged 18 or over.

  122.  All promotional leaflets and brochures must carry a Government health warning covering 20 per cent of the page where the brands are most prominently advertised.

  123.  Imperial and other UK tobacco companies are able to offer sample cigarettes to adult smokers but only provided this is carried out by trained personnel who must comply, under threat of dismissal, with a written procedure which must include instructions that they:

    —  only approach people who are strongly believed to be aged 18 or over;

    —  not offer a sample to anyone who approaches them who they suspect is aged under 18;

    —  must not approach anyone if they are with children;

    —  ensure the person is a smoker before offering a sample;

    —  not offer samples to non-smokers.

(6)  Sports Sponsorship

  124.  Sponsorship is only permitted for those sports which have been listed and are approved by the Government. Further sports can only be added with the approval of the Minister for Sport.

  125.  The amount spent by Imperial and other UK tobacco companies on sponsorship of UK sports may not exceed the amount spent by each of them in the financial year for 1985 subject to allowance for inflation. Of this, only 15 per cent may be spent on media advertising for the sponsorship activity. Imperial and the other UK tobacco companies are required to provide a return through the company's auditors of the total amount of expenditure.

  126.  All press, poster and promotional advertising at the event must carry a Government health warning. The warning must cover an area of 20 per cent of the advertisement. In terms of content, advertisements must comply with the detailed rules which are set out in the Advertising Voluntary Agreement but in addition advertisements should not:

    —  include any representation of a cigarette or cigarette pack;

    —  echo any elements in the design of any pack although house names or brand names are permitted in the style and colours normally associated with the brand;

    —  depict any participants in the sport;

    —  depict anybody smoking;

    —  contain anything which has implications of health;

    —  appear in conjunction with any cigarette brand advertisement.

  127.  There are very detailed provisions of what is permitted at televised events. The maximum number of signs and their size is specified and

  128.  must be appropriate for the type of event involved. For example, indoor events are permitted substantially less advertising than outdoor events.

  129.  The participants and equipment used at televised events must not display house or brand names when they can come within the scope of television cameras. Furniture and background material at such events must not show brand identification.

(7)  Product Modification

  130.  In addition to establishing how and when cigarette products should be modified to reduce tar yields, the product modification voluntary agreements also provided a regime for the greater advertising of lower tar yield products and the cessation of advertising of high tar yield products so as to encourage consumer switching to lower tar yield products. Lower tar yield products were required to be advertised disproportionately more than their sales would ordinarily justify in order to achieve Government objectives. The result was a considerable reduction in the sales weighted average tar yield of Imperial's cigarette brands. Between 1970 and 1996, UK sales weighted average tar yields fell from 20.8mg to 10.6mg.

UK Cigarette Consumption

  131.   Overall consumption of cigarettes in the UK fell by 37.6 per cent between 1970 and 1996, from approximately 126 billion to 81 billion. This drop in consumption was greater than in any other market in the world during this period. Since 1996, there has been a further decline in sales of UK duty-paid cigarettes and other tobacco products. However, this has been broadly matched by an increase in cross-border trading and smuggling.

Breakdown of the Constructive and Positive Relationship between Government and the UK Tobacco Companies

  132.  Since 1994, when SCOTH replaced the ISCSH, the constructive and positive relationship which had existed between Government and the UK tobacco companies has deteriorated.

  133.  Contacts continue at a technical level, for example through the Scientific Liaison Working Group. However, Government has largely ceased to consult with, and benefit from the knowledge of, the UK tobacco companies on major issues, prior to the formulation of policy or in the implementation of policy.

  134.  In particular, the relationship between SCOTH and the UK tobacco companies has proved very different from that with the ISCSH who regularly received information from, and gave advice to, Imperial and the other UK tobacco companies. The manner in which SCOTH prepared its report into environmental tobacco smoke ("ETS") and other issues, contrasts starkly with the ISCSH's approach over many years. SCOTH requested the UK tobacco companies to produce "peer-reviewed papers only" on the relationship between ETS and lung cancer, thus foregoing much useful knowledge and information from the companies. Nevertheless, the TMA responded with a substantial compendium of published science. SCOTH did not engage in any meaningful dialogue with the UK tobacco companies about this science. It also did not seek any information at all from the tobacco companies on the other topics addressed in its report, although in some cases the companies were the obvious source of information. The deficiencies in the manner in which SCOTH produced its report left the UK tobacco companies no choice but to apply for judicial review. They have since been given leave by the Court to proceed with this application.

  135.  The Government's attitude towards the UK tobacco companies, as illustrated by recent statements on tobacco issues and recent communications from the Department of Health, has dramatically changed from that which existed when the voluntary agreements were being negotiated. The new attitude appears to be driven by the dogma of pressure groups and inappropriate reliance on documents and opinions emanating from the USA.


  136.  For more than 40 years, Imperial worked alongside Government to address smoking and health issues. During this time, the Government has had a consistent policy against smoking. However, Imperial has taken care not to challenge or undermine Government public health initiatives or the messages that the Government has communicated to the public. The positive and constructive dialogue between Government and Imperial developed into a regime of voluntary agreements regulating the sale of tobacco products with which Imperial has conscientiously complied. This co-operative approach was applauded by successive Governments and resulted in what one Secretary of State for Health described in 1992 as:

    "one of the most advanced, comprehensive and effective systems of voluntary control in Europe." [158]

  137.  Regrettably, since 1994, although Imperial continues to co-operate with Government wherever possible, Government and its advisors, including SCOTH, have ceased to consult meaningfully with the UK tobacco companies. As a result, Government has received advice and has formulated and implemented policy on the basis of dogma and facts which have no relevance to the UK.

153   Hansard 16 March 1971, page 1190. Back

154   Virginia Bottomley, Department of Health Press Release, 4 March 1993. Back

155   Government Action Plan: Smoke-Free for Health, February 1994, page 44. Back

156   COMATAS Twelfth Annual Report. Back

157   Brit. Med. Bulletin 1996; 52 (No 1): 193-205. Back

158   Virginia Bottomley, Department of Health Press Release, 4 March 1993. Back

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