Silk Cut, Benson & Hedges lose their royal seal of approval

 

The withdrawal of the Royal Warrant from the tobacco group Gallaher, the makers of Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut cigarettes, was welcomed by anti-smoking campaigners yesterday as "very enlightened" and marks the end of a 122-year agreement between the Royal Family and the manufacturers.

Regarded as a prestigious marketing symbol, which allows manufacturers to display a royal coat of arms on their products, the royal household's tradesmen's warrants committee decided to remove the warrant last December. The company has been given a year to remove the coat of arms from all its packaging.

Royal Warrants are granted only by a small number of members of the British royal family, including Queen Elizabeth, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen Mother and Prince Charles. Queen Elizabeth would have had little direct involvement in the decision, according to Buckingham Palace, but the decision was taken after a lack of demand for cigarettes in the royal households and at royal banquets.

A spokesman for Gallaher said: "The granting of the Royal Warrant is a matter for the royal household. Beyond that, we do not wish to comment."

However, Prince Charles, who is an ardent anti-smoker, is believed to have had some influence on the committee's decision. Mr Clive Bates, director of the anti-smoking group Action on Smoking and Health, said he believed the decision was nothing short of an "important symbolic breakthrough" in the 20-year campaign to end royal support for tobacco manufacturers.

He continued: "Perhaps they have been a little embarrassed by endorsing cigarettes, a product that kills 120,000 people a year in Britain. And a number of the royal family have died as a result of smoking-related illnesses. The Royal Warrant had become a really important part of the branding of these cigarettes. They were supposed to have that elegant St James's, Pall Mall feel to them. They were supposed to have the feel of nobility, aristocracy and prestige."

Clearly delighted by the decision, Dr Bill O'Neill, an ethics and science adviser to the British Medical Association said: "We hope that this action by Her Majesty will serve as a clear signal to leaders in society, high profile figures and role models who one way or another lend support to smoking."

The withdrawal of the warrant can also be seen against the background of smoking-related deaths in the royal family, most notably that of Queen Elizabeth's father, King George VI, who died of lung cancer in 1952 and her grandfather, King George V and great grandfather, King Edward VII. Queen Elizabeth's sister, Princess Margaret, has also suffered from smoking-related illnesses.

There are about 850 royal warrant holders and a company must show that is has supplied a substantial amount of goods or services to royal households for a period of not less than three consecutive years.