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UK adheres to Formula One exemption

BMJ 1997; 315 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.315.7120.1397 (Published 29 November 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;315:1397
  1. John Warden
  1. London

    Introduction

    The first British government to support a ban on tobacco advertising will enter negotiations in Europe on 4 December with reservations that could delay the ban. This is due to the Labour government's insistence that Formula One motor racing should be exempted from a ban (15 November, p 1251).

    While the government seeks approval by the European Health Council for a directive imposing a comprehensive advertising ban, it emerged last week that it wants grand prix motor racing to be given a permanent exemption and to be subject to only voluntary controls. The public health minister, Tessa Jowell, told a committee of MPs that the directive must safeguard the position of Formula One as well as meet public health concerns that smoking should be reduced. She was uncertain if a common position would be agreed next week.

    In Britain the issue has gone wider, with suspicions that the government was influenced to favour Formula One by a £1m ($1.6m) donation to Labour party funds by senior figures in the sport. The government denies any conflict of interest, claiming that up to 50000 British jobs are at risk if Formula One racing moves to the Far East, exposing more people to tobacco advertising rather than fewer.

    Explaining why the exemption for Formula One should be in perpetuity, Ms Jowell said that it was a uniquely global sport with a high level of dependence on tobacco sponsorship. The sport's controlling body was willing to negotiate a voluntary code with the European Commission that would limit tobacco advertising. Adherence to the code would be a condition of being able to race. She agreed that voluntary codes had not proved sufficiently stringent in the past, but the advantages would be its global application and that it would be incorporated into the regulatory structure of the sport. Ms Jowell did not think it necessary to exempt other sports for longer than the four and a half year derogation allowed in the directive. She added: “I am proud of the path we have taken in delivering our commitment to reduce death and harm by smoking.”

    Ms Jowell said that the government had translated its manifesto into a set of practical proposals that would reduce the exposure of the people to tobacco advertising as part of a wider range of measures. But she did not convince the committee and faces a further interrogation.

    Figure1

    Tessa Jowell faces further probing over tobacco sponsorship

    PETER JORDAN/PA NEWS

    The draft directive, which the health council will consider next week, has been dormant since 1992, having been blocked by Britain, Germany, and four other states. It would ban advertising for tobacco products on posters and in magazines, as well as promotional activities and sponsorship. It also covers indirect advertising through branded goods. Germany, Austria, Denmark, and Greece still form a blocking minority. If a common position is reached next week the directive might be adopted by April 1998.

    Meeting with prime minister

    At a meeting with the prime minister on 25 November representatives of 83 organisations put the case for a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, sponsorship, and promotion. Mr Blair told the delegation that his health ministers would negotiate the best possible deal on the directive.

    The BMA was represented by Dr Sandy Macara, chairman of the BMA council. He said: “I welcome the commitment. I believe that the four or five years that it will take to implement the directive is ample time for sport to find other sponsors.”

    At another meeting with sports representatives the prime minister said that a task force would be set up to help sport find alternative sponsors.

    Adrian Vickers, deputy chairman of one of Britain's largest advertising agencies, Abbott Mead Vickers, said at a press conference last week that unless the government stood firm “tobacco companies will exploit any loopholes to promote their products in new and more inventive ways.”

    Tobacco ban could increase jobs

    Researchers at the Centre of Health Economics at the University of York and the Society for the Study of Addiction say that banning tobacco advertising and reducing smoking would create more jobs than it destroyed. They maintain that if a total ban on tobacco advertising led to a fall in cigarette consumption of 5% to 10%, as estimated by the government, there would be a net increase of 15000 jobs. The Family Expenditure Survey has shown that money saved on smoking tended to be spent on more labour intensive products. So if a target of 40% reduction in smoking was achieved there could be a net increase of 150000 jobs.

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