Smoking segment not a 'tobacco ad': Seven

The Federal Court has ruled Channel Seven in Adelaide breached broadcast laws with a story about Coles selling cheap imported cigarettes, claiming it promoted tobacco. But the network is adamant it was merely trying to report an "important" public interest issue.

The segment in question, which appeared on Channel Seven News in Adelaide in July 2010, reported that Coles was selling a number of imported, budget cigarette brands from Germany up to five dollars cheaper than local brands. It included interviews with the owner of a petrol station, a spokesperson from the Smokefree Australia Coalition and two unidentified male smokers. Cigaronne cigarettes.

A complaint was lodged to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) that the story was "indirect advertising on behalf of both Coles and the cigarette companies involved”.

ACMA then investigated the the story and ruled it was a "tobacco advertisment", breaching the 1992 Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act and the station's Broadcasting Services Act.

The Federal Court backed ACMA's decision. ACMA acting chairman Richard Bean said: "It provides an important reminder the legal prohibitions against the advertising of tobacco are very strict. The law serves an important public health purpose and the ACMA will continue to be vigilant in this area."

At the time, Network Seven tried to refute the ruling by claiming it had no intention to broadcast a tobacco ad in the segment, among other things, and so hadn't breached the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act. None of its submissions were accepted by the Federal Court.

Seven has now argued it's "disappointed" by the ruling and still believes it didn't breach any laws.

"Seven continues to believe that its broadcast, which highlighted the increase of cheap tobacco imports being sold by supermarkets and which included messages from anti-smoking group, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), related to an important public interest issue and was in no way intended to promote cigarettes or smoking and breached no applicable laws," a spokesperson said.

ACMA has said it's currently considering what remedial action is appropriate.

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