AUGUST 2, 2005

The politics of tobacco

The European and British anti-tobacco legislation, which came into effect on Monday, may not be as effective as had been planned. The British government seems to be happy to water down the effects of the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002, which appeared to be much more stringent than the European Union tobacco ban.

The European law covers advertising that crosses national borders (such as press, radio or internet advertising) and sponsorship of sport but it is not certain that the governments involved will enforce the laws if they consider Formula 1 to be more important. The Hungarian government, for example, says it will continue to allow Marlboro sponsorship at the Hungarian GP next year by classifying the race as something other than a sporting event. The next election is due in May 2006 and it remains to be seen if Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany will be returned to office. A new government may have a different attitude.

The European Commission says that it is not willing to create guidelines to control cross-border advertising until the European Court of Justice rules on a case pending. Once that is settled the Commission may act but it seems that the reality of the situation is that F1 cars will continue to be televised in Europe when they are racing outside the EU. The British are also now saying that the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002 does not apply to broadcasting, which entirely undermines the effectiveness of the law. However, the fact that a minister has given the government's opinion as to how a law applies, does not affect the law and anti-smoking campaigners may decide to go to the courts to get a clear legal definition of how the law should be applied.

The FIA has called for an end to tobacco sponsorship worldwide in October 2006 but this and other arrangements agreed by the tobacco companies cannot be trusted to end tobacco sponsorship and thus we would expect to see a much stronger push from the World Health Organization to make its anti-smoking treaty even more strict. At the moment 168 countries have signed the treaty and 74 have ratified it. The tobacco industry has only itself to blame if this does in the end happen because of attempts to get around all legislation. The major fear in the industry is that there will be further restriction of advertising at the point-of-sale, which is currently still allowed. Tobacco companies are now pouring more funds into trade marketing to raise the profile of brands in tobacconist shops, bars, hotels, restaurants and clubs.