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Denmark: tobacco premier hits bass note

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How very inconvenient it must be for tobacco companies if they invest in arts sponsorship to circumvent an advertising ban, only to find that ministers of culture, who should be grateful for the funds, implement the law as parliament intended.

This can be seen in Denmark which, despite valiant efforts by the health community, lingers second only to Germany at the bottom of the tobacco control league in northern Europe, in terms of public and political awareness about tobacco.

Early in 1999, Tobaksbladfet, a publication for employees of the Scandinavian Tobacco Company (STC), carried a photograph of the Danish prime minister, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, handing over the $30 000 1998 Jazzpar jazz music prize to French jazz pianist Martial Solal. The prize, as the publication proudly reminds its readers, is exclusively sponsored by STC.

Commenting on the premier's apparent contentment as he clutched a large scale version of STC's leading Prince cigarette pack (with the Prince name replaced by ST), the journal said: “Judging from the remarkable joy of the arrangement, he clearly does not share the negative attitude to tobacco industry sponsorship of his minister of culture”.

Denmark's prime minister, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, clutching a large scale version of the Scandinavian Tobacco Company's leading Prince cigarette pack (with the Prince name replaced by ST).Photo credit: Jan Persson

The minister of culture, Elsebeth Gerner Nielsen, had already implemented the EU's directive on tobacco promotion that bans most forms of advertising and sponsorship of tobacco products, which should be implemented by Danish legislation before the end of 2001. In April 1999, she stated: “The EU directive is a reasonable directive. Therefore we will start to implement the directive as the Ministry of Culture negotiates with its supported institutions and when the Ministry of Culture sponsors cultural projects and cultural institutions”.

Denmark has more reasons than most countries to take tobacco control seriously, with 12 000 deaths a year from tobacco and one of the world's highest female lung cancer rates. Nevertheless, while the current 1000 cases per year are predicted to double within 10 years, the Danish Council on Smoking and Health has a budget of only $2.5 million a year. A recent decision to offer nationwide breast screening to prevent just 150 of the current 1300 breast cancer deaths per year, however, will cost between $7–15 million dollars.

One of the cultural institutions sponsored by STC is the Danish Royal Theatre in Copenhagen. Appropriately, among its core repertoire is the modern ballet “Triumph of Death”, with music by the rock group Savage Rose.