Tobacco Advertising in F1

THE gradual attack of the world's legislators against tobacco advertising continues with new countries pushing through bans with each passing month.

The tobacco companies have been fighting back as they feel that if it is legal for them to sell their products they should be allowed to advertise them. Governments around the world do not want to ban the sale of tobacco because it raises huge amounts of money from taxation. These double-standards are most evident in Europe where the European Commission has tried to introduce a pan-European ban on tobacco advertising while at the same time paying nearly $1bn a year to tobacco farmers in tobacco subsidies. There is considerable opposition to phasing out these farming subsidies because it would leave tens of thousands of people without work.

The EU could overturn the subsidy system in 2003 but as the Commission has failed to implement its ban on tobacco advertising this is not likely. The tobacco advertising ban - which was voted through in July 1998 - was rejected by the European Court of Justice in October because it was created as a measure aimed at strengthening the European single market. The court decided that it was actually a health issue and as these are the responsibility of the individual European governments the ban could not stand.

Just before the announcement of the overturning of the European ban the FIA pulled off a clever move by saying that it will ban on all tobacco sponsorships in the sport by the year 2006 if the World Health Organisation is able to agree on its planned Convention on Tobacco Control. This is aimed to be an international anti-smoking treaty which would include all 150 WHO member countries. The problem for the WHO is that the governments involved do not agree on how severe the ban should be and although the treaty could be finalized by 2003 it is almost certain to take longer.

In the interim tobacco advertising bans are pending in several countries which the F1 circus visits or would like to visit. These include South Africa, Hungary and Brazil. The FIA has threatened to stop the F1 races if there is anti-tobacco legislation and want each country to exclude F1 from the bans (as already happens in various countries). This could result in the cancellation of some events but if F1 refuses to go to Brazil and Hungary this will mean the sport is not represented in South America and Eastern Europe - and that would upset other big sponsors.

While all this is going on, Formula 1 teams are reducing their dependence on tobacco money. Prost has now joined the non-tobacco teams following the decision to split with Gauloises. Jaguar, Williams, Minardi, Sauber and Arrows have no tobacco sponsorship but Ferrari (Marlboro), McLaren (West), Jordan (Benson & Hedges), Benetton (Mild Seven) and BAR (Lucky Strike) all remain heavily dependent on tobacco dollars - at least for the moment.

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