Smoking Row: Young Formula One fans more likely to start the habit

The Cancer Research Campaign believes many young boys who watch motor racing instantly recognise the names of cigarette brands such as Marlboro and Camel. Ian Burrell says this brings further pressure on the Government to reverse its exemption of Formula
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Publishing the CRC's research today, the Lancet, the influential medical journal, will run an accompanying editorial which denounces the handling of the sponsorship issue by health ministers.

"In the days of a Conservative government both [Frank Dobson and Tessa Jowell] might have demanded resignations in circumstances such as this," says the journal.

"A research team from Manchester University found that over 27 per cent of boys aged 12 and 13 who watched motor racing could recognise the name Marlboro, compared to less than 17 per cent of those who did not like the sport." Similarly, 10 per cent of those who followed motor racing were familiar with the name Camel - double the figure for those without an interest in Formula One.

The researchers also found that the boys who liked motor racing were more than twice as likely as the other boys to become regular smokers.

Professor Gordon McVie, director-general of the Cancer Research Campaign, said: "These children are being subjected to subliminal imagery; the continual flashing of an image in their faces. It is not just the car itself that they are watching but the branding on the side of the vehicle and at various points around the track." Researchers at the university's Education and Child Studies Research Group were commissioned by the CRC to interview more than 1,000 boys aged 12 and 13 in the North and the South of England.

They were asked which sports they liked to watch on television and whether they smoked. The same questions were then posed again a year later. The researchers found that of those non-smoking boys who named motor racing as their favourite sport, 12.8 per cent had taken up cigarettes by the following year, compared to 7 per cent of boys who did not like motor racing.

Professor Anne Charlton, who headed the research team, said there were currently around 626,400 boys aged 12-13 in the UK and based on the survey's findings, around 72,764 or 12 per cent of these might be motor racing fans.

"Of these racing enthusiasts, 9,314 of them could be expected to take up smoking - nearly double the amount of boys who don't follow the sport."

The links between motor racing and the tobacco companies looked set to be strengthened yet further yesterday with British American Tobacco, the makers of Lucky Strikes, said to be close to purchasing the Tyrrell Grand Prix team. Reports said that BAT was prepared to pay pounds 300m over five years for control of the Formula One team.

But the company was non-committal. "This is simply the continuation of speculation which has surrounded BAT for some time," it said.

"We did confirm we were looking at renewing our association with Formula One last month, whether it was buying a team, setting up our own or through conventional sponsorship."