DECEMBER 8, 1997

F1 gets tobacco money for nine more years

THE European Health Ministers met in Brussels last week to hammer out a compromise over the banning of tobacco advertising in Europe.

THE European Health Ministers met in Brussels last week to hammer out a compromise over the banning of tobacco advertising in Europe. The result was a deal which means that Formula 1 will continue to have tobacco sponsorship until October 1, 2006. The British government bowed to pressure before the meeting and gave up its demands for a permanent exclusion from the ban for Grand Prix racing and went to Brussels asking for a 10-year exclusion. The British position became particularly important after the dramatic last-minute defection of Spain from the group of countries supporting the ban.

The Spanish health minister Romay Beccaria said that his country could not support the ban because of the political implications of job losses in the Spanish tobacco industry.

This meant that EU Commissioner Padraig Flynn had to compromise with Britain, Greece and Holland which had said they would support the ban but only if their individual demands were granted. Britain's request for a 10-year exclusion for F1 was rejected but after intense negotiation a compromise of eight years with a final deadline of October 1, 2006 was finally arrived at.

Germany and Austria still voted against the ban, while Denmark and Spain abstained but their combined votes were not enough to stop the directive, which must now go to the European Parliament in Strasbourg where the 626 Euro MPs will vote on the issue. It needs only a absolute majority to go through and it is unlikely to be stopped.

Once that vote has been taken overt tobacco advertising will be phased out within three years. Advertising in newspapers and magazines must stop within four years and sports sponsorship and indirect advertising - such as clothing - will be outlawed after six years. There will then be a three-year transitional period during which "existing sponsorship of events and activities organized at world level" will continue, provided they are reduced each year.

The decision guarantees F1 at least $1.5bn in revenue and this will probably increase as other tobacco companies are more likely to become involved as other options are closed. The FIA said that it would make no comment until the draft directive had been before the European Parliament.

The only drawback for motor racing is that the EU will be expanding into Eastern Europe in the years ahead, so that races in countries such as Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland are going to be affected when the ban is finally in place.

There was more vocal opposition from the tobacco industry. The Confederation of European Community Cigarette Manufacturers said that the move was "blatant abuse of the EU Treaty" and Britain's Imperial Tobacco said it was considering legal action.

Germany's health minister Horst Seehofer said that he did not rule out a legal challenge to the ban because it will breach the right to freedom of expression.

There is also opposition from the publishing and advertising industries which claim that a ban would lead to job losses as income reduces. The European Publishers Council questioned the EU's right to pass such legislation when tobacco is legally available and the tobacco industry is only kept alive by massive EU subsidies.