The question of tobacco

The Formula 1 community continues to blithely ignore the fact that on July 31 2005 all Formula 1 teams with any link to the United Kingdom will have to stop running their cars with tobacco sponsorship, no matter where in the world the races are taking place. If the law is not changed between now and then the teams must either stop using tobacco money, run unbranded everywhere or stop F1 coverage in Britain. The Formula 1 team bosses say that there is not a problem because the law was not meant to do what it is doing and will be changed but there does not seem to be much evidence of this happening and the matter is unlikely to be able to be ignored as there are some strong anti-smoking lobbying organizations in Britain who will force the issue.

Under the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002 tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship were banned in Britain, the final implementation date for international events being July 31 2005. A European Union directive, agreed in December 2002 also deals with four cross-border tobacco advertising. This also comes into effect on July 31 2005. The directive is facing a legal challenge from the German government which alleges it goes too far.

It is worth noting that compromise does not seem to be the order of the day at the moment with the news that a group of tobacco companies have launched a High Court challenge against the Act, claiming that the restrictions on advertising at the point of sale are an unlawful interference with their commercial freedom of speech under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The companies are arguing that the limits were so draconian that they amount to an effective ban on all ways of informing consumers about their products. The case is being brought by BAT, Imperial Tobacco, Gallaher, Philip Morris and the French tobacco company Altadis.

If the tobacco ban in the UK is upheld as it is now is, it will mean that either the F1 team bosses with tobacco backing and those who broadcast the sport (including Bernie Ecclestone) will have broken the law or they must decide to stop all coverage of F1 on British TV, which would mean cancelling the ITV deal.

Running unbranded cars at every race is an option but it is not thought likely that the tobacco companies will be willing to pay the same kind of money to F1 teams.

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