Letter: Branson and F1

Sir: Since your headline "Branson tells Blair: keep your promises or lose my backing" (13 November) used words I never said, and since you've published letters as a result, I'd like the chance to set out my thoughts on the cigarette sponsorship debate.

Some ten years ago I was sitting with a bunch of kids on a Virgin Atlantic plane watching on television what I thought was a glamorous motor race. It dawned on me that it was in fact a clever advertorial for a cigarette company, aimed at young people. I pledged from that day to ban all cigarette advertising from all Virgin companies. Our accountants believe that decision costs us around pounds 1m a year.

It is encouraging young people to start to smoke that most of us are against, not preaching to adults who already smoke. If adults are foolish enough to risk killing themselves by smoking (or ballooning!) that's up to them. So we continue to sell duty-free cigarettes, to have smoking carriages on our trains and smoking areas on a couple of our flights where the majority of our customers want them. I don't believe the two to be contradictory.

Three months ago I was asked to attend a medical conference where a categorical pledge was given by ministers to ban all sponsorship of sport by tobacco companies within approximately three years. The Government then asked me if I could find alternative sponsors to replace cigarette companies who sponsored sports. I said I would be delighted to do so.

The week before last I was phoned in the States by an embarrassed minister to be told that Formula One would be excluded. They could carry on accepting tobacco sponsorship indefinitely. Would I continue, in the circumstances, to help them find sponsorship for the other sports?

I pointed out that I felt bitterly disappointed, as I was sure the rest of the country would; that to treat a rich sport paying drivers pounds 5m a year differently from poorer sports such as cricket, fishing or snooker just didn't stack up. I pointed out that there would be no job losses - I knew most of the teams well and they were committed to England, tobacco or not. The Government was breaking its election pledges, and letting millions of young non-smokers down.

I reminded the minister that although I was convinced that the Grand Prix organisers were bluffing in threatening to withdraw from Europe, I had already pledged to the Government that if they did, Virgin would set up a rival sport - or bring the even more exciting Indy racing to Europe.

However, I also said I would of course continue to work with ministers in finding new sponsors for the other sports and would lobby Tony Blair on my return to cap the number of years Grand Prix continues to take cigarette sponsorship.

I never said I would withdraw my support for the project. I hope it is not in my character to walk away from a challenge.



React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

C# Developer

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: My client is lo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
80 per cent of Commonwealth countries discriminate against LGBTI people - will Salmond speak out?  

Alex Salmond must speak out against the Commonwealth's homophobic countries

Peter Tatchell

Commonwealth Games 2014: Speak out against homophobia, Mr Salmond

Peter Tatchell
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor