Politics: Brussels agrees to dilute tobacco advertising ban

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The Independent Online
The Government may seek exclusions from an EU tobacco sponsorship ban for sporting and cultural events other than Formula One, it emerged in Brussels yesterday. Katherine Butler reports.

After weeks of wrangling, Grand Prix events are likely to be granted a six to seven year exemption when European governments meet for decisive talks on a ban today. The Government originally demanded a permanent exemption for Grand Prix racing because of its particular dependence on sponsorship by the tobacco giants.

A compromise proposal, which now appears acceptable to both the European Commission and the Government, gives all member states two years to convert the ban into national law, and a further two year phase for indirect advertising by cigarette companies applying to all sports. An additional reprieve, the duration to be negotiated today, is designed to allow "existing" tobacco sponsorship of Formula One to continue, bringing the total extra time to at least six years.

But the text of the compromise formula makes no direct mention of Formula One, stating that the additional reprieve could be sought for "events and activities organised at world level". EU officials said the definition of "world level events" would be left to member states, although the proposal says that any exemption would have to be "in exceptional cases and for duly justified reasons".

According to official sources the Government has "not ruled out" applying the exemption clause to other sporting or cultural events which are dependent on tobacco sponsorship and which might require time to findalternatives. If the ban is agreed today, other governments are expected to exploit this loophole to buy time for sports they want to protect.

Agreement on the tobacco advertising ban still hangs in the balance; four countries - Germany, Denmark, Greece and Austria - are resolutely opposed.

Padraig Flynn, the EU commissioner who proposed the ban, is relying on British support for the qualified majority he needs to push it through, and is therefore reluctantly ready to accomodate British concerns on Formula One.

The amended proposal does, however stipulate that Formula One organisers would have to demonstrate convincingly that they were cutting tobacco sponsorship.