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The F1 tobacco war begins

FIA President Max Mosley used the Grand Prix of Europe at Jerez, in Spain, to launch a campaign against a threatened European Union tobacco advertising and sponsorship ban. The European Council of Health Ministers is due to meet on December 4 to agree a draft directive for an Pan-European ban. This is believed to include a five-year grace period which will allow sports to find alternative funding.

Mosley says that even if there is a period in which tobacco sponsorship can continue, Formula 1 will reduce its involvement in Europe dramatically if any ban goes ahead. In effect the FIA will reduce the number of Formula 1 Grands Prix in the European Union from nine to three and these will be rotated between the existing circuits. This will mean that there will, for example, be a British or a German Grand Prix only once every three years. This would be a disaster for many of the race tracks which use the money they make from the Grands Prix to keep the facilities up to date and as safe as possible. The races in Monaco and Hungary would be unaffected by an EU ban as they are not members of the organization.

Mosley said that 70% of the Formula 1 global television viewership is now in the Far East and that the missing races could easily be replaced with as many as four new races in the Pacific Rim (China, Korea, Malaysia and Indonesia). There has also been talk of other events in Africa, the United States and the Middle East.

Mosley's comments followed a debate in England's parliament last week in which the House of Lords considered whether a ban on tobacco sponsorship would put British dominance of F1 racing "seriously at risk". It was proposed by Lord Astor of Hever who argued that there is no clear evidence that tobacco sponsorship of sports affected the consumption of cigarettes.

Former Sports Minister Lord Moynihan argued that a voluntary agreement was the best way to proceed but Lord McIntosh of Haringey, replying for the Government, said there was evidence of links between tobacco advertising and teenage smoking, and claimed that 38% of teenagers linked motorsport to tobacco.

Mosley pointed out that tobacco companies paid between $200-300m to motor racing every year and this supports a $1bn industry in Britain which employs around 50,000 highly-skilled people.

"We are not prepared to damage our industry on the basis of a theory, or perhaps even a religion, among the anti-smoking lobby. We will not allow hundreds of millions of dollars to be taken away simply because someone says there must be some connection between consumption and advertising.

Mosley said that the FIA would be willing to compromise and would reduce - but not eliminate - tobacco advertising in motor racing around the world, by means of the FIA Sporting Regulations - if the governments could produce evidence that tobacco sponsorship does increase the number of smokers.

"Many governments know that banning tobacco advertising will not reduce the consumption. We have found evidence to suggest that a ban increases smoking but they want to be politically-correct, knowing that it will have no effect on consumption now on their tax revenues. It is hypocrisy of the worst kind."

Mosley said that this should be an attractive solution because governments cannot prevent the showing of TV pictures beamed from afar and as a result tobacco images on F1 cars would continue to arrive in Europe and the ban would have achieved nothing.

"We are not being confrontational. We are just telling people what will happen if they pursue a certain course of action. It is entirely rational and the obvious thing for us to do."

Mosley said research made available to the FIA showed that bans on cigarette advertising actually been accompanied by increases in smoking.

The meeting in December will need what is called a "qualified majority vote" of 71% of the members to become law and to date the proposals have been blocked by Britain, Holland, Germany, Denmark and Greece. The new British government has, however, declared itself in favor of the ban and the Dutch government is wavering. If Germany, Denmark and Greece continue to block they will have only 16% of the vote and the law will go through.

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