The anti-tobacco forces rally

Marlboro and Mild Seven are now the only tobacco firms left sponsoring cars in Formula 1. MF1 Racing has yet to unveil its full package of funding but there seems little sign that Benson & Hedges will be back. Mild Seven is rumoured to be leaving the sport at the end of 2006 and that means that Marlboro may end up being the only tobacco company left. There are some races which have done special deals to allow the Formula 1 cars to run with tobacco branding but this process cannot last forever. On February 6 in Geneva, Switzerland, a conference will begin at which the signatories of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (167 countries and the European Community signed up to the deal and 117 have so far ratified the agreement). Those 117 countries will be represented at the first Conference of the Parties and the discussions will centre on how to push ahead with the implementation of the treaty, establishing a permanent secretariat, monitoring and reporting on progress and discussing how to tighten up the rules. According to the WHO tobacco continues to be the largest entirely preventable cause of mortality, accounting for almost five million deaths every year. The WHO says that this figure could double by 2020 if nothing is done.

Countries which have signed up to the deal but are now trying to find a way of excluding F1 from the agreement are likely to come in for heavy criticism.

It is also worth noting that despite its sponsorship announcement Marlboro is committed to leaving motorsport at the end of 2006, having agreed to the International Tobacco Products Marketing Standards which defined the minimum restrictions which the companies agreed to place on themselves worldwide. It was signed on September 11 2001 by representatives of Philip Morris, British American Tobacco and Japan Tobacco and created a common code of advertising and sponsorship standards which included an agreement to end sports sponsorships on December 1 2006 on the understanding that the sport involved requires "above-average physical fitness for someone of the age group of those taking part".

There is no doubt that Formula 1 is in this category. It may be that Marlboro will step back at the end of 2006 and will sell its space on the Ferraris to other companies but the fact that Vodafone quit Ferrari because it could not get title sponsorship suggests that this is not going to be the case. In that case Marlboro will have not only the WHo but also rival tobacco firms on its tail in the years ahead.

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