Minister vows to stub out sponsors

Smoke signals: Labour denies caving in to lobbyists, as China puffs on regardless and US pays the price
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The Independent Online
The Government is determined to press ahead with plans to ban tobacco sponsorship, a minister insisted last night after reports that the proposals had been watered down in the face of lobbying by tobacco companies.

Tessa Jowell, the public health minister, dismissed claims that there had been discord between her department and the minister of sport, Tony Banks, over the issue.

She said a white paper in autumn would set out the Government's plans in full and there would be legislation next year to implement them.

The plans would be in place well before the next election. Suggestions had been made that the Government's stance was weakening after it was revealed pounds 10m of sponsorship contracts would be allowed to run their course.

But Mrs Jowell said the Health Secretary, Frank Dobson, had made it clear in May that sport would need a "period of grace" before the ban.

"We are negotiating with sporting interests the way in which the ban will be introduced in order to ensure stability for greatly loved sporting events," she said.

She had spoken to Mr Banks just before the parliamentary recess and he was completely in agreement with her views. "Tobacco advertising does actually induce people to take up smoking. If it didn't the tobacco manufacturers would not spend more than pounds 50m a year advertising. If they want to go on making anonymous donations by way of sponsorship to sporting interests then nobody is going to stop them."

The executive director of the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association, former Tory MP John Carlisle, said Mr Banks had operated an "open-door" policy on the subject while health ministers had been less approachable.

"Mr Dobson and Ms Jowell tend to have taken an antagonistic attitude, demonising the industry, forbidden us from attending the big summit they had on July 14 and almost trying to punish us, and that, of course, we resent". The Government should look again at the issue of sports sponsorship, which cost between pounds 8m and pounds 10m and which affected darts, snooker, ice hockey and angling more than other sports.

"No one ever suggests and should ever suggest that people actually take up smoking because of what they see on sporting boards throughout the country," he said. "We would beg the Government to think again on this matter. It's not a vast sum of money. It is an excellent relationship between the sponsor and the sport and sports themselves are crying out for additional help and they may not find it elsewhere."

The white paper will include plans to cut levels of smoking among young people and ban advertising of tobacco as promised in Labour's manifesto. It will also propose the banning of cigarette sales to the under-18s as well as new restrictions on smoking in public. The tobacco industry puts money into a number of sports but its biggest backing is given to formula one racing.