AUSTRALIA is considering a range of measures to curb tobacco advertisements, including possibly snuffing out cigarette advertising completely. Tobacco ads on radio and television were banned in 1976. Now antismoking campaigners sense the time is right to launch new initiatives. Among the legislative proposals:
A multimillion-dollar foundation, funded by a cigarette sales tax, which ``buys out'' tobacco company sponsorships of athletic teams and sporting events. Two states have set up such a foundation; a third may soon follow.
A bill to ban all tobacco company ads, due to be introduced in federal Parliament this month.
An amendment to the Australian Broadcasting Act designed to close a loophole allowing ``accidental or incidental'' television broadcasts of cigarette company billboards during sporting events. This amendment will be introduced next month.
The pincerlike squeeze of state and federal measures has officials of the advertising and tobacco industries crying foul.
``As long as the product remains legal, advertising should be allowed,'' says Bruce Cormack, director of the Advertising Federation of Australia. ``Unfortunately, banning cigarettes is politically unacceptable. So, the politicians take the easy way out, giving the appearance of doing something.''
Sen. Janet Powell, sponsor of the bill to ban tobacco advertising, replies, ``We stop short of banning a known harmful product because it has an established market. If we ban it now we end up with a black market, like the United States had during the Prohibition era.''
Senator Powell is a member of a minority party in Parliament, the Australian Democrats. Powell says, ``There's strong support in the community and across party lines'' for the ad ban and the amendment to the Broadcasting Act.
Tobacco industry officials question the level of support, but are nonetheless busy this month lobbying politicians in Canberra.
``If they want to ban the various marketing outlets [tobacco] companies use for tobacco, which is a legal product, then where does it end? The next step is to move on to alcoholic products, pharmaceutical products, or products with high levels of cholesterol. Consumers must be given more credit for making their own choices,'' says Brendan Brady, deputy chief executive of the Tobacco Institute of Australia.
Antismoking campaigners respond that this ban isn't aimed at adults but at teenagers who may be more easily influenced to take up smoking. Smoking among Australian adults is falling, but some studies show an increase in teenage smoking, especially among girls.
By advertising at sporting events, the industry appears to be trying to create a link between athletic prowess and smoking. The tobacco and advertising industries claim advertising only aims to encourage adult smokers to change brand loyalty.
The industry already has a voluntarily code which restricts advertising aimed at children. But a growing number of Australian states aren't satisfied with the industry's position.
Last year, the State of Victoria set up a landmark health-promotion foundation with its first goal to end cigarette company sponsorship of sporting and cultural events.
A new sales tax on cigarettes has generated almost $20 million this year. Thirty percent of the funds are earmarked for sports sponsorships, 30 percent for health promotion (such as ``Quit'' antismoking billboards), 7 percent goes to arts and cultural programs with a health message, and the remainder is spent at the discretion of the foundation.
The program is off to a flying start. Tennis, soccer, football, squash, horse racing, and a dozen other sports have dropped cigarette ads and replaced them with health ads.
``We've virtually eradicated tobacco advertising from sports with the exceptions of cricket, motor racing, and major events with exemptions,'' says Nigel Gray, deputy director of the Victoria Health Promotion Foundation.
The inability to buy out the popular cricket and motor racing events has not been for lack of money or effort. ``The Australian Cricket Board is very loyal to Benson & Hedges. But the Melbourne Cricket Ground is taking ``Quit'' advertising, so spectators are at least being exposed to both view points,'' Dr. Gray says.
But by outbidding tobacco firms, the foundation is pushing up the ad rates for everyone, claim critics. ``The foundation offers excessive amounts of money to get the sponsorship which inflates the market,'' says Peter Alexander of Rothmans Holdings (makers of Pall Mall and Winfield brand cigarettes).
Some critics decry the entry of government into sports as creeping socialism. But South Australia State has already adopted the concept. Western Australia may be next. And as word spreads, the Victoria foundation is getting inquiries from around the world.
``The principle of taxing tobacco for the purpose of health is brand new, very attractive, and is going to spread like a bush fire,'' Gray predicts.