A smoke-filled lunch

It was a nice spring day in Paris and I went out for a look around the local market and to have lunch in a local brasserie. Having pored over the endives and asparagus and checked out the smelly cheeses, I settled down with a racing magazine, surrounded by the usual crowd of cigarette-puffing Frenchmen and women. I read about Jean Alesi's DTM victory in Hockenheim (Vive la France!) and Sebastien Bourdais's win in the IROC race in the United States (Vive la France!) and then my eye was drawn to a headline which declared that "Treluyer pas dans le coup" which, in rough translation means: "Treluyer not in the picture". This was a report about why Benoit Treluyer did not win the Formula Nippon race at Suzuka at the weekend. It was 150 words before I discovered that the race had been won by a Japanese driver called Ide, although the magazine did not see fit to give this foreign person a first name. The Formula 3 Euroseries report had a photograph of Loic Duval standing on the podium waving a trophy while James Rossiter and Lewis Hamilton stood next to him, looking sheepish. Reading the copy it emerged that Duval had not actually won the race. He had finished second.

By this point I was laughing. French soldier Nicolas Chauvin was so devoted to the Emperor Napoleon that they named any form of fanatical patriotism after him, but I was thinking more about the apocryphal British headline which is supposed to have declared: "Fog in Channel - Continent isolated". Or to put it another way: the world ceases to exist beyond our frontiers.

This was odd, because I had spent the morning doing a lot of research on tobacco advertising, a subject which has proved, to me at least, that nowadays the world is an entity and nations cannot live in isolation.

Tobacco law is important to motorsport because tobacco companies pay a lot of the bills that racing teams create, particularly in Formula 1. Marlboro's coin keeps Ferrari ticking over; Mild Seven pump dollars into the Renaults; BAR-Honda is owned and funded by British American Tobacco; McLaren gets cash from West and Jordan has Sobranie on the rear wing because the Gallaher Group plc pays the team to promote the brand. Williams, Toyota, Red Bull, Sauber and Minardi do not have tobacco money.

In other words its 50-50 amongst the teams.

On July 31 this year European Union legislation will come into force which means that all tobacco sponsorship should stop in Europe. West has already made it clear that it is going to depart and the word is that Sobranie will be off the Jordans as well. And yet, when you look closely, it is not the European legislation that is the real problem. The French have proved for years that European legislation is there for others to follow.

The British Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002 (Transitional Provisions) is the document that has the tobacco barons quaking in their Tod's because those damned British have gone further than European law. The UK law states that "a person who is party to a sponsorship agreement is guilty of an offence if the purpose or effect of anything done as a result of the agreement is to promote a tobacco product in the United Kingdom". This applies to TV coverage produced anywhere in the world. And the punishment is not a fine but a prison sentence of two years. This does not just mean that those bad old tobacco barons will get into trouble, it also means that F1 team owners (and directors) will be liable. It means that anyone who is aware of the law is also liable, so cameramen, directors, satellite operators and even the people who do the TV deals should not have read these words. The tobacco teams say that this was not what the intended and that they are asking for clarification but time is running out and once the law is the law, it is a brave man who will challenge it. Because even if the government does not take action, you can bet that the very active anti-smoking lobby will be off to court immediately they see a tobacco image on a car on TV.

The only tobacco-sponsored team that is not affected by this is Ferrari, which is based in Italy. BAR, McLaren, Renault and Jordan carry out their business in Britain and so are all liable. The teams may have legal arguments but if you were a team boss would you risk two years in jail? If you are Bernie Ecclestone would you risk two years inside just to help Ferrari?

And one should remember also that on September 11 2001 representatives of Philip Morris, British American Tobacco (BAR) and Japan Tobacco (Renault) met in New York and agreed on something called the International Tobacco Products Marketing Standards which defined the minimum restrictions which the companies agree to place on themselves worldwide. Not surprisingly, given the date and location, that event did not get much media coverage but the document does include an agreement to end sports sponsorships on December 1 2006 on the understanding that the sport involved requires "above-average physical fitness for someone of the age group of those taking part".

There are some who argue that the time has come for F1 to stop its love affair with tobacco and that the remaining tobacco teams should cut their links with the cigarette industry. Some of the other teams argue that it is necessary because they have discovered many other big sponsors which would be happy to come into F1 if there was no tobacco. Some of the new sponsors would be alcohol companies because they suffer some of the same restrictions which have plagued tobacco companies for years. Going down that route will put F1 into another long-running saga because you can bet that once tobacco sponsorship is stamped out, there are people who will go after alcohol companies.

"We would not like to see the drinks industry replace tobacco companies as the principal sponsors of Formula 1 racing," says Alcohol Concern, a British organization.

You might be wondering how it is that there are some countries where tobacco advertising is banned and yet F1 cars still run with tobacco branding. The truth is that there are deals. Governments back down when F1 threatens not to come back. It has happened pretty much everywhere. There are exceptions to that rule, of course, the funniest of which is Italy which, would you believe, was actually the first European country to ban tobacco advertising back in 1962.

"Advertising of any tobacco product, whether domestic of foreign, is forbidden," the law said. And yet 43 years later cars still run around with tobacco decals. The answer is that the fine imposed is so unimpressive that each morning at a Grand Prix in Italy a policeman arrives at each pit garage where cars have tobacco branding and fines the team for breaking the law. He issues a receipt and goes to the next garage.

Ironically, the only country that has managed to get it right is France, where in 1991 the Loi Evin was introduced. This banned all advertising of tobacco and alcohol in France. As I scan my magazine every image with a tobacco sponsor has been distorted to protect the magazine from legal action. The Loi Evin is very effective - but then again the Loi Evin is one of the reasons why French motor racing has to rely of Alesi and Bourdais. A generation of drivers has been lost because there has been no tobacco money to help build their careers.

And, looking around, it does not seem to have done much to stop the French from smoking.

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