Lower house passes bill banning tobacco advertising

The Czech lower house has made a move towards a complete ban on tobacco advertising. In a surprise vote on Friday, left-of-centre political parties approved a bill which would see all tobacco ads disappear as of 2004. Vladimir Tax has the details.

Whereas the United States and Western Europe generally recognise the threat that cigarettes poses for people's health, and smoking is becoming increasingly stigmatised, the Czech Republic has so far done little to fight the phenomenon. According to statistics, 37 percent of Czechs are regular smokers.

According to Christian Democrat MP, Josef Janecek, who is one of the authors of the new law, the ban on tobacco advertising would not have an immediate effect:

"Tobacco adverts can be on display for another two years, that means that current contracts do not need to be terminated."

An outright ban or at least limiting of tobacco advertising has been repeatedly discussed by the Czech parliament with no visible outcome. Health activists attribute the hesitance of the government and parliament to tackle the problem to strong lobbying from tobacco producers and the fact that consumer tax on tobacco products constitutes a significant income for the state budget. Smoking-related taxes pump more than 20 billion CZK (or 600 million USD) into the public treasury annually, which is almost 6 percent of total tax revenues.

The ban on tobacco advertising is yet to be approved by the Senate and President. According to representatives of right-of-centre parties, the Senate is likely to oppose the bill. MP Vladimir Mlynar from the Freedom Union warns that if the bill fails, it will strengthen the already dominant position of one tobacco producer and therefore seriously hamper the competition.

"If tobacco advertising is banned, no competitors will be able enter the Czech market. I believe the Senate will reject the bill and then the House will re-consider it."