Will tobacco sponsorship really stop in 2006?

The chances of tobacco sponsorship coming to an end around the world in 2006 are reducing. Originally the intention was for all tobacco sponsorship in all motorsport to be stopped at the end of 2006. In October 2000 the FIA adopted a resolution calling for "a world-wide ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship in international motor sport from the end of the 2006 season". This was tailored to coincide with a European Union ban and various other governments around the world timed their bans to coincide with the EU move.

Even the major tobacco companies got together to agree not to sponsor sports after the end of 2006.

But will it all really happen?

The EU torpedoed confused matters, some say fatally, by deciding to bring forward the date of its ban to the middle of 2005. Once that became clear the Formula One group became much more active in looking for new venues outside the EU. FOM has made it clear that it might consider races in non-tobacco venues but that will cost the organizers much more money. This however is not so attractive to the teams which already face tight restrictions in Britain, Germany and France. There is no incentive for the tobacco-funded teams to accept more non-tobacco races. The Italians have a suitably lax system under which the teams pay fines to the police each year at Monza and Imola and the racing goes ahead without problems. Austria has already been dumped from the calendar and Monaco escapes the net because it is not a member of the EU. This means that the races in places like Belgium and Spain are in serious danger in 2006.

There is a certain amount of pressure on the tobacco-funded teams in F1 from those who do not have tobacco money because, they argue, the link with tobacco drives away other sponsors but with the current balance of tobacco and non-tobacco teams being 5-5 it is hard to see that a majority will prevail in the immediate future.

The World Health Organization's anti-tobacco treaty is bubbling away quietly but it is going to take years before all the necessary legislation is enacted at national and international level to stop tobacco advertising and that means that the only real barrier to tobacco advertising is the tobacco companies' own agreement to limit their actions.

And who is to say that they will honour that agreement, given that the governments have been chopping and changing their laws in recent years.

If the self-policing of the industry fails, then the gates are open for tobacco sponsorship for another five to 10 years and perhaps even longer if F1 goes to countries which have not signed up to the WHO treaty.

High-placed sources in F1 say that if the European Health Commissioner David Byrne had not insisted on changing the date of the EU legislation a global ban would probably have gone through but that his disastrous manouevre destroyed the deal.

They say that Byrne's monument at the EU will be tobacco advertising on racing cars for many years to come.

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