Formula 1 hope for government dispensation on tobacco

Formula 1 goes to Hungary next weekend facing what could be its last weekend with tobacco sponsorship. On August 1 2005 new legislation comes into effect in Britain and Europe which will make tobacco sponsorship difficult. The legal teams from the tobacco manufacturers have been studying the legislation but no-one is saying openly what will happen.

The British legislation is particularly tough as it bans all forms of tobacco branding anywhere in the world for companies which are registered in Britain. This means that every team except Ferrari would get into trouble if the law is applied. And Ferrari may not be able to get away with it either because in order for the cars to be seen on British TV it would involve British companies who broadcast the event, notably Formula One Management and ITV.

The tobacco companies have been trying to get a dispensation for this for some time. Nine months ago Baroness Billingham of Banbury asked a question in the House of Lords, trying to discover whether the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act (2002) would have effect outside the European Union; and whether the government would consider amending the Act. Lord Warner, the Under Secretary of State for Health, said that the law "has effect in Great Britain and Northern Ireland only, in line with the government's intentions".

This did not really answer the question and more recently Mark Hendrick MP asked in the House of Commons whether the issue of extra-territoriality could affect the future of the motorsport industry. Geoffrey Hoon, the leader of the House, answered for the government, saying that "I can assure my Hon. Friend that any legislation that has been passed was not intended to have extra-territorial implications, and was not intended to go beyond the terms of, in this case, a directive. That directive needs to be interpreted consistently with its terms; it should not be gold-plated or interpreted in any more extravagant a way."

This is all very well but a law is still in place and the words of a politician do not change that. The teams need a letter allowing them to break the law.

"A lot can change between now and Hungary," said Renault's Flavio Briatore. "All the teams are in England, we give a lot of employment in England. You have Silverstone, really, we put a lot of effort... I thinkÉ really for me it is not right to have this kind of battle in England for the tobacco because Formula One is very healthy in England. We pay tax, we employ a lot of people and like I said before, the tobacco (industry) has always been a good supporter of Formula 1 if you look back at history, and for me, if someone sees the car with tobacco and starts smoking or stops smokingÉ I had tobacco on the car, but I stopped smoking. I was smoking 50 cigarettes a day and I stopped myself. I think there are a lot of problems in the world and it looks like tobacco is a big issue at this time. Let's see what happens. For the moment we are racing here with our normal livery, if we are forced not to use the tobacco we will not use it. It's as simple as that but we will see what happens with the letter we need to receive from the government and then we will see, in a few days, what will happen."

Briatore was asked if he is expecting a letter.

"I don't know," he replied. "It looks like everybody is expecting something. For the moment we are allowed to have the tobacco livery here and we will see what happens in the future, in the next few days."

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