Tobacco laws in Britain

The British Minister of Sport and Tourism Richard Caborn was present for the race in Malaysia at the weekend and it is fairly clear that one of the matters that will have been discussed is the British government's new law about tobacco sponsorship. Although Britain followed the lead of the European Union and banned tobacco advertising from the end of 2006, somewhere along a way a clause was inserted into the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act of 2002, which makes it an offence for anyone to be a party to a sponsorship agreement if the purpose of that agreement is to promote tobacco products in the UK. This means that any tobacco sponsorship by a British-based Formula 1 team is illegal because television pictures of the cars will be broadcast into the UK from races around the world. This means that continuing tobacco backing at new races in Asia will not get around the British law.

The problem is that the British government will not want to get involved in any deals involving Formula 1 and tobacco because of the damage that was done back in 1997 when the Tony Blair government received a hammering over a political donation made by Bernie Ecclestone to the Labour Party.

Elections must happen in Britain before June 2006 but like all Prime Ministers Blair is able to pick his own date for maximum electoral advantage. It is being reported in Britain that Blair has warned senior Labour Party officials to be prepared for a poll in October this year. The last thing he needs therefore is to be seen to be doing deals with F1. As Formula 1 teams are obviously not going to leave Britain despite a few attempts to suggest that could happen. It is unlikely that the authorities can turn a blind eye to the law because of the energetic anti-smoking organisations in Britain, and so the only other solution would appear to be a TV blackout on the sport in Britain - which would not be popular.

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