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Lawyers get rich, F1 teams get politically-correct

THREE tobacco firms went to the House of Lords, the highest court in Britain, last week to stop the British government introducing a ban on cigarette advertising before the planned European legislation. Gallaher, British American Tobacco (and its subsidiary Rothmans International) and Imperial Tobacco started action against the British authorities when it announced plans to ban tobacco advertising and sponsorship in 1997, independently of a European ban which is due to come into effect in the summer of 2001 and will see a gradual phasing out of tobacco sponsorship in F1 until 2006.

The British Labour Party - which argued in favor of a ban which excluded F1 racing in the autumn of 1997 - has been trying to introduce an immediate ban since the summer of 1998. The original deadline was December 1999 but the legal actions from the tobacco firms have delayed this. The High Court ruled in November that the government should wait until the European ban, but that decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal, which argued that the government ban should not go ahead until after the European Court of Justice decides whether the European ban is unlawful because if a ban was imposed early in Britain and the legislation was then declared unlawful, tobacco companies would not be able to claim damages for legal actions taken against them in Britain. The Court of Appeal added that the decision could be taken by the House of Lords. The five House of Lords judges are not expected to rule for some months.

By the time the legal wrangles are finished most of the F1 teams will probably have given up their tobacco money. Already there are five teams without any tobacco money but McLaren, Ferrari, Jordan, Benetton, BAR and Prost are still reliant on the tobacco firms which paying an estimated $225m between them this year. There are signs that BAT is getting tired of F1 and that Prost may drop its Gauloises backing in exchange for Yahoo! title sponsorship next year and that Benetton will drop cigarette money when it becomes the Renault team in 2002 but at the moment there is no sign of any change at McLaren, Ferrari or Jordan.

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