SYDNEY — AUSTRALIA may decide to snuff out virtually all forms of tobacco advertising.
If Parliament approves, the Australian government will ban all forms of tobacco advertising, except for point of sale advertising, after July 1, 1993. In addition, Australia will virtually end the sponsorship of sporting events by tobacco companies after Dec. 31, 1995.
The proposed ban, announced April 1, is aimed at ending tobacco's influence on young people. The government claims that 14 percent of children aged 10 to 12 start smoking because of advertising. Australia will join Canada, Norway, and France in having some of the toughest anti-tobacco laws.
The sporting ban will particularly hurt the tobacco companies which spend $20 million (Australian; US$15.1 million) a year sponsoring rugby league, cricket, and sailboats.
The "Cabinet's decision breaks the nexus between sport and tobacco in Australia forever," said a joint statement from Peter Staples, the minister for Aged, Family, and Health Services, and Ros Kelly, the minister for Arts, Sport, and the Environment.
The only exceptions to the sporting ban will be international events such as the Adelaide Grand Prix or the motorcycle Grand Prix held in New South Wales. Benson & Hedges will be permitted to sponsor cricket until the end of the 1995-96 season.
Sports organizations will receive no federal compensation because of the decision.
The government move will actually be a relief for some rugby organizations. The North Sydney Bears did not want to mention Winfield, which sponsors the rugby league. Rugby league officials responded by threatening to prevent television coverage of the Bears.
Health organizations that sponsor the Canberra Raiders also had to remove "Quit for Life" banners because of league pressure. Now, the tobacco companies will be banned themselves from advertising at the games.
The Cabinet decision must be approved by Parliament, where the Tobacco Institute of Australia has vowed a vigorous battle.
"We will be actively lobbying both sides of government to bring some common sense into this by either knocking it out or at least watering it down to be less restrictive," says Michael Apps, a spokesman for the institute.
But antitobacco forces believe they have the votes to pass the legislation. "We don't think it will be a battle," says John Shaw, director of the National Heart Foundation.
The tobacco companies may also mount a legal challenge, claiming the legislation restricts trade.