The tobacco battle explained

The World Health Organisation and the FIA have been working together for the last two years to introduce a total global ban on all tobacco sponsorships in motorsport on October 1 2006. The aim of this was to stop all tobacco advertising in the sport and not just stopping tobacco sponsorship in some countries while most of the F1 Grands Prix continue to be broadcast in countries where tobacco sponsorship is banned. The FIA's idea makes rather more sense than the European Union's rather clumsy tobacco legislation, which has been lumbering through the EU system for most of the 1990s. The original ban - which allowed Formula 1 to continue with its tobacco sponsorships until 2006 - was thrown out by the European Court of Justice because it was judged to have been illegal. But the Europeans went back to produce a new law and moved the date of the ban forward by one year to the end of July 2005. The FIA has argued that it has no objection to the new European law except that it being done a year before the WHO ban in 2006, which makes no sense but the European bureaucrats seem intent on squeezing the sport.

The FIA is now facing a decision as to whether to accept the European ban and take races out of Europe for the next three years or whether to continuee to press the European Union to move its date back by 14 months. The sport has already shown itself to be in a combative on the issue by axeing the Belgian Grand Prix from the F1 calendar because the Belgian politicians insisted that they introduce their own ban from the middle of 2003. The Belgian GP is now dead and the area around Spa-Francorchamps is bracing itself for series economic repercussions as the Grand Prix has in recent years brought in around $50m a year to the area. The irony is that Belgium TV will still be beaming pictures into Belgium of tobacco-sponsored cars racing at tracks around the world. Nothing has been achieved except that the Belgian politicians have in effect voted to wipe out jobs.

Formula 1 teams, which are struggling at the moment to find money, are keen that the money that comes from tobacco companies continue as long as possible and quite a few are unhappy that the FIA has agreed to a 2006 ban. They argue that if tobacco is bad for the general public it should be banned and governments should not make money from taxes levied on the products. The European Union is open to considerable criticism because at the same time that it is it being self-righteous about tobacco sponsorship it is paying thousands of farmers billions of dollars to grow tobacco. It should be remembered that it was the F1 teams themselves which voted to kick Spa out of the World Championship because of the Belgian attitude towards the sport. It is likely that if other European races come up they will be met with a similar response, particularly as there appears to be no shortage of races outside Europe at the moment with big new events planned for China and Bahrain in 2004 and Turkey and Russia in 2005. The likelihood is therefore that three or even four of the current F1 races in Europe will be axed within two years and as the new deals are long-term, this will mean serious financial losses for the regions in which the events are held over a long-term period of time.

The FIA argues that if the European Union would simply fall into line with the World Health Organisation plan there would be fewer problems with the sport and some of the money which the events generate would not be lost.

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