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A smart move in the tobacco campaign

THE FIA has pulled off a clever move in its battles with the European Commission over tobacco advertising. For some time it has been clear that the controversial 1998 ban on tobacco advertising - which allowed Formula 1 to continue with its tobacco sponsorships until 2006 while all other sports had to stop in 2002 - was going to be rejected by the European╩Court╩of╩Justice. The FIA preempted the announcement that the law had been thrown out by saying that it will introduce a total ban on all tobacco sponsorships by the year 2006, on condition that the World Health Organisation's Convention on Tobacco Control is agreed.

The WHO's 150 member states around the world are due to meet soon to discuss what will in effect be an international anti-smoking treaty, including a global ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship. This will only come into effect if all the big countries in the world agree to accept it and so it is unlikely to be universally accepted before 2006.

Despite losing its battle in the courts the European Commission is going to try to revive parts of the tobacco ban which were not judged to be unacceptable by the courts. A variety of advertising and sponsorship restrictions could be adopted because they do fall under the internal market legislation and are not health issues over which the European Commission has no control.

The FIA's announcement gives the sport the image of being supportive of the proposed cutbacks but at the same time sets the stage for the tobacco companies to continue to pour money into the sport until 2006 without having to worry about the restrictions which were written into the European directive. In the long-term tobacco will go but before it does, thereby will a lot more spending in Formula 1 than had been planned.

To a large extent teams have already been addressing the issues of Formula 1 without tobacco and several have already found non-tobacco title sponsors for the years ahead. This has shown that alternative backers can be found although the big╩tobacco deals will be difficult to replace. The trend has been highlighted in recent days by Alain Prost's decision not to continue his association with Gauloises.

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