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MARCH 11, 2004

Japan signs anti-tobacco pact

Japan has become a signatory of the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, committing itself to stamping out tobacco advertising and sponsorship around the world. Japan's signing is significant not only because it is a major power but also because it is the 98th country to sign the deal and that means that half the governments in the world are now behind the deal, including many of the most populous nations on earth. The one major player which is not committed to the treaty is the United States of America but China, India and the entire European Union are behind the ban. And African's biggest country, Nigeria, is on the verge of joining the deal, the country's health minister Eyitayo Lambo saying in recent days that the country will sign shortly.

The Japanese signature is also significant as the Japanese government owns Japan Tobacco, the third biggest cigarette company in the world. The Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is known to be opposed to smoking and was Minister of Health and Welfare in several previous Japanese governments in the 1980s and 1990s. His Minister of Finance Sadakazu Tanigaki, the man who controls Japan Tobacco, is going to be hard-pressed to argue that his F1 sponsorship should continue. It is possible that Japan Tobacco could be sold off but Tanigaki recently said that there were no plans to do that.

If the company remains under government control one must assume that Japan Tobacco's sponsorship of the Renault F1 team, via its Mild Seven branding, is unlikely to continue at the end of the existing contract. Renault announced in January last year that the deal with Mild Seven would run until the end of 2006.