Kicking the habit, F1-style

New legislation designed to stop tobacco advertising comes into force tomorrow. This ought to mean that today would be the last day we would see cigarette logos on Formula 1 cars. But this is Formula 1 we’re talking about — that’s just asking too much.

Some teams are sensible enough to call it a day with tobacco advertising. This has been coming for years now. Tobacco advertising has been banned in some countries for decades, and I think logos were only seen on Formula 1 cars for about half of the races anyway.

It is a bit of a myth that Formula 1 relies on tobacco advertising. Even some of the team bosses seem to believe that they need their tobacco logos to carry on in Formula 1. But it is not the case. Prudent teams have turned elsewhere — banks, computer companies, and so on — and have found equally lucrative sponsorship deals. Williams is particularly notable. Williams ditched tobacco advertising themselves in 1999, and for a period you could have called them anti-smoking, as they even carried NiQuitin CQ logos.

British American Tobacco has seen this coming aswell. BAT want out. That partly explains why BAR is now 45% owned by Honda. Earlier this year there were even suggestions that Honda would fully own the team by this date.

McLaren, meanwhile, have gracefully accepted the legislation. West logos were dropped a day before they even had to be, and yesterday was the last time we’ll see a McLaren with tobacco advertising on it.

Ironically, having just parted company with its tobacco sponsor, McLaren will replace the space vacated by West with Johnnie Walker logos. Minardi have run logos for online gambling companies. So getting rid of tobacco companies isn’t going to cut dangerous addiction!

The two teams who will be sticking their neck out tomorrow will be Renault and Ferrari. The last I heard about Ferrari’s sponsorship situation, Philip Morris were not put off by this legislation. Even if Marlboro logos can’t be displayed on the car, Philip Morris would still pay top-dollar for the Ferrari cars to be painted Marlboro red. The Scuderia, as usual, must be absolutely pissing themselves with laughter over this. Being paid millions to run in the colour that they have (almost) always run in! Incredible!

Ferrari themselves might be able to get away with it, as they are based in Italy. The stricter British laws affect all of the other teams apart from Toyota and Sauber (who don’t have tobacco advertising anyway).

The problem seems to be over the ambiguity of the law. Nobody quite seems to know what it means, and the government doesn’t seem to want to clarify (remember, Tony Blair’s first scandal as Prime Minister was over Formula 1, so he has avoided it ever since). The law appears to ban any British-based company from being involved in tobacco sponsorship. But what does this mean?

It had been suggested that ITV would be breaking the law if they broadcast Formula 1. A newspaper or a website would be breaking the law if it publishes a picture of a Ferrari. Infact, FOM, because it is based in Britain, would be breaking the law. Apparently Bernie Ecclestone could go to jail for two years. I can’t quite see that happening though. Taking it to its logical conclusion, it will be illegal for anybody to publish archive photographs of Formula 1 cars with tobacco logos on them. ITV will be broadcasting tomorrow’s race. I doubt that any action will be taken.

ASH are apoplectic. Not only are they angry at Formula 1, the sport which is undoubtedly seen as the worst culprit for tobacco advertising, but they are angry that the states have been unable to clarify the law and tell the Formula 1 teams and broadcasters what’s what — despite the fact that this legislation has been on the cards for possibly decades, and certainly the law itself has been in place for three years.

My personal view is that I have been watching Formula 1 for most of my life, and I have never been tempted to start smoking. I personally doubt the effectiveness (and danger) of tobacco advertising. Nevertheless, there are clearly a lot of people who want to get rid of tobacco advertising once and for all. It’s been coming for as long as I can remember. Perhaps Formula 1 should just accept defeat and move on.

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