Honda website
Honda website

FEBRUARY 1, 2006

Mild Seven is out!

As we exclusively predicted in December last year, Japan Tobacco has now confirmed on its website that the company will finish its sponsorship with the Renault F1 team at the end of the current season. The company says that it is pulling out in order to be in compliance with the "International Tobacco Products Marketing Standards" of which JT was one of the co-authors.

The news is more significant than it may apppear because while meaning that Renault must find a new title sponsor, it also means that the other signatories to the agreement (British American Tobacco and Philip Morris) will be under pressure to stick to the deal. British American Tobacco has already made it clear that it will be pulling its Lucky Strike branding out of the sport at the end of the year but Philip Morris's Marlboro has made noises which seem to suggest that it will be staying on with Ferrari. If that is the case, the company is risking accusations from the other signatories that it will have broken the agreement made in 2001. The danger of such a course of action is that governments will react and decide to work more closely together to tighten international tobacco legislation to stamp out all advertising once and for all, and might even pass further laws to punish the tobacco industry.

One fear that exists in the industry is that there will a ban on cigarette machines, which would reduce the access of under-aged buyers to tobacco products. Studies have found that vending machines are an anonymous way to purchase cigarettes and thus are an important source of cigarettes for young people. Another possibility would be reduced advertising at the point of sale.

The tobacco industry knows that such things would be counter-productive. The International Tobacco Products Marketing Standards were devised as a way for the tobacco industry to be conciliatory towards lawmakers and thus avoid harsher penalties. To a large extent the agreement was an acceptance that tobacco sponsorship in sport was a losing battle and thus ultimately not such a great concession but rather a way for the industry to buy a little more time.

In the circumstances it is hard to imagine that Marlboro will really go on with its backing of Ferrari. There are several possible alternatives. Philip Morris might, for example, sell the space on the cars on to other sponsors. This is probably not likely as if this had been a possibility Vodafone would probably not have switched teams to become the title sponsor of McLaren in 2007. The other option is that the colour scheme on the Ferraris will continue but the word Marlboro will no longer appear.