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Belgium ban goes ahead

THE Belgian parliament last week voted in favor of a ban on all tobacco sponsorship in the country. Since 1982 Belgium has had a ban on tobacco advertising on television and radio but advertisements have been able to appear in newspapers and on billboards. The new ban - which will come into effect on January 1, 1999 - will be one of the strictest in Europe and will wipe out all such advertising and sponsorship.

"Belgium is giving a good signal to Europe to allow a European directive banning tobacco advertising and sponsoring on a European level," said Louis Van Velthoven, the socialist politician behind the law.

The news has been greeted with resignation at Spa. "I fear next year's Belgian Grand Prix will be the last," said Spa president Joseph Moxhet.

While Spa may survive simply because it is one of the few great tracks still operating in Europe - and because the race is promoted by one of Bernie Ecclestone's companies - there is no doubt that it will be a major blow to young Belgian drivers as the tobacco companies have funded the early careers of virtually all the Belgian stars of the modern era, notably Thierry Boutsen, Bertrand Gachot and Marc Goossens - all of whom were heavily supported in their careers by Marlboro. Only Eric Van de Poele made it to F1 without any major tobacco money.

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