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>> News > Internet
British Government Plans to Block Tobacco Websites - December 6th 2004

Website blocking technology, however controversial, is not uncommon outside the Western world, with countries like China blocking many American news sources and websites, and Middle Eastern nations blocking websites they find culturally offensive. However, it has not been a practice common amongst Western governments as they feel such an act would compromise the right to free speech.

Although certain Internet Service Providers might choose to block certain web pages, the Government has not invested in technologies to block websites from their people. Until now, that is.

Tobacco advertising has become something of a political football in recent years, with a planned world ban to be enforced in the next few years. However, in the EU, a ban will come into force in 2005. Although tobacco advertising has been illegal within some member countries for a few years, it has not been illegal to broadcast tobacco sponsored events from abroad.

For example, many of the Formula 1 teams are sponsored by tobacco corporations – but they are not allowed to carry their tobacco sponsorship when racing in the EU. If they raced in a country without a tobacco ban, this could be broadcast in the EU thus bypassing the tobacco advertising ban by a technicality. It is rumoured that many EU countries, most notably the United Kingdom, plans to enforce a total tobacco advertising ban, which would stop such sports being broadcast.

A independent review on behalf of the British Government confirmed that websites of the tobacco companies should be considered a form of advertising, thus leading to only one possible course of action – whilst the government could legally terminate the tobacco companies’ UK websites, they could not shut down the international websites.

As a result, it is believed that the British Government is negotiating a deal with the Chinese Government, widely accepted in having the most sophisticated internet filtering technology, in order to block tobacco websites from being viewed in the UK.

It is also planning in introducing tough fines to Internet Service Providers in allowing their users access to tobacco websites. Whilst most Providers were unable for comment, a spokesperson for AOL stated that allowing their users access to websites went strictly against their company policy.

Keith Wilson, a advocate of free speech and a campaigner against banning tobacco advertiser had this to say:

“This is getting stupid, where will we stop? Perhaps we should stop shops from putting them up on display as that could be considered a form of advertising. And what about alcohol advertising? I bet the only reason the Government doesn’t outlaw that is because Guinness is the only company that makes decent TV commercials. If we got rid of them our commercial breaks would be full of those crappy E-Sure ones.”

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