Tobacco Advertising

What is Tobacco Advertising?

Tobacco Advertising refers to the promotion of tobacco products, such as cigarettes, in the media and at retail outlets.

In the first half of 2003, the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002 banned the direct and indirect advertising or promotion of tobacco products. For the purposes of the ban, 'tobacco advertisement' is defined as an advertisement that has the sole purpose of promoting a tobacco product (direct advertising) or 'whose effect is to do so' (indirect advertising or brand-stretching). The Act says that a 'tobacco product' is anything made 'wholly or partly of tobacco and intended to be smoked, sniffed, sucked or chewed.'

Under the Act, tobacco advertising in the press and on billboards was outlawed from February 2003, while direct marketing was banned from May of the same year. 

The Health Act 2009, together with regulations made under the Act, enable further restrictions on tobacco sales and advertising. 

On 1 October 2011, a ban on the sale of tobacco from, and display of adverts on, vending machines came into force, the aim being to prevent under-age sales to children and to help adults trying to quit.

On 6 April 2012, further regulations came into force requiring all large shops and supermarkets in England to hide cigarettes, tobacco products and displays from public view. For all other businesses and smaller shops selling tobacco products, the regulations will apply from April 2015.


Television advertising of tobacco products was banned in the UK in 1965 under the Television Act 1964, which was reinforced by an EU directive in the 1980s. Other advertising, such as press and billboard, was governed by a self-regulatory agreement with the Government. This covered the manner of advertising and the positioning of promotional sites.

Labour pledged to ban tobacco advertising in its 1997 election manifesto: "Smoking is the greatest single cause of preventable illness and premature death in the UK. We will therefore ban tobacco advertising." A White Paper entitled 'Smoking Kills' was published in 1998. After a Government bill failed to become law before the 2001 general election, Ministers adopted an identically-drafted private member's bill, first introduced by Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Clement-Jones.

Under the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002 , tobacco advertising in the press and on billboards was outlawed from February 2003, while direct marketing was banned from May of the same year.

The sponsorship of sporting events began to be phased out from July 2003, allowing some sports to reduce their reliance on tobacco revenue gradually. Ban on the use of tobacco advertising at Formula 1 Grands Prix and other sporting events in the EU came into effect on 1 August 2005.

The Health Act 2009 includes provisions which enable the introduction of regulations to restrict future advertising and promotion of tobacco products.
‘Healthy Lives, Healthy People: A Tobacco Control Plan for England’, published in March 2011,set out the Government’s programme of tobacco control to be delivered over the following five years and included a proposal to look at the impact of cigarette packaging.

A public consultation was subsequently launched seeking views on whether plain packaging, or a different kind of packaging, should be adopted. The consultation ran from 16 April to 10 August 2012. The Government has said it has “an open mind” on the issue and will carefully consider all the information before making a decision.

A ban on the sale of tobacco from, and display of adverts on, vending machines, was introduced in October 2011 under regulations enabled by the 2009 Health Act, as part of a plan to tackle sales of cigarettes to children.

According to the Government almost all smokers said they began smoking before they were 18 and of the 11-15 year olds who smoke regularly, 11% said they bought their cigarettes from vending machines.

The Government was also concerned that displays of tobacco products in shops could “promote smoking by young people and undermine the resolve of adult smokers trying to quit.”

Consequently, on 6 April 2012, regulations were introduced requiring all large shops and supermarkets in England to cover displays from view. Large shops are those with a relevant floor area of more than 280 square metres. The regulations will apply to all other businesses and smaller shops selling tobacco products from April 2015.


Contentious issues are the degree to which tobacco advertising encourages people to take up smoking and to what extent individuals of different ages should be exposed to promotional messages.

Opponents of a ban argue that tobacco advertising does not increase the market for tobacco products, seeking only to influence the brand decisions of existing smokers and informed adults. As one firm submitted to the Commons Health Committee , "cigarette advertising does not cause people to take up smoking. Simply put, cigarette advertising has two purposes – to maintain brand loyalty and to encourage smokers to switch brands."

Anti-smoking groups argue that advertising legitimises smoking and suggest that tobacco companies have deliberately targeted young people in an effort to recruit new customers to replace those who give up or die. 

ASH (action on smoking and health) welcomed plans announced by the EU in December 2012 for larger health warnings to be displayed on cigarette packs.  The draft revised Tobacco Products Directive to be debated by the European Parliament includes includes proposed mandatory large pictorial health warnings covering 75% of the packs (both front and back) compared to the current minimum requirement of 30% on one surface and 40% on the other.

ASH suggests that although the Directive does not explicitly call for plain packaging of tobacco, it would enable Member States to adopt such a measure.

However, the secretary-general of the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association, Jaine Chisholm Caunt, said the proposals, “fly in the face of common sense, and restrict free trade.”  She also claimed that attempts to standardise packaging would “create opportunities for criminal gangs to profit and sell illicit tobacco to children.”

The TMA was also highly critical of regulation restricting displays of tobacco products, saying a ban was “unjustified” as there was “no credible evidence to support the government’s stated objective that a ban would reduce youth smoking.”


Evidence shows that cigarette displays in shops can encourage young people to start smoking. The figures for England show that:

5% of children aged 11-15 are regular smokers
more than 300,000 children under 16 try smoking each year
39% of smokers say that they were smoking regularly before the age of 16

Every year more than 300,000 under-16s try smoking for the first time.

It is estimated that 35 million cigarettes are sold illegally through vending machines to children every year.
Anyone selling cigarettes from a vending machine could be fined up to £2,500.
Any person found guilty of displaying cigarette adverts on a vending machine could face imprisonment for up to six months, or a fine of £5,000, or both.

Source: Department of Health – 2012


 “We cannot ignore the fact that young people are recruited into smoking by colourful, eye-catching, cigarette displays. Most adult smokers started smoking as teenagers and we need to stop this trend.

“Banning displays of cigarettes and tobacco will help young people resist the pressure to start smoking and help the thousands of adults in England who are currently trying to quit.”

Health Minister Anne Milton – 2012