Formula One ‘blackmailers’ threaten global tobacco treaty

Wednesday 10 September 2003

For Immediate Use: Wednesday 10th September 2003
As teams prepare for the Italian Grand prix at Monza this weekend, new evidence has emerged to show that Formula One is still trying to press Governments around the world to allow tobacco sponsorship of motor racing to continue. Formula One is the world’s biggest sporting receiver of tobacco money and has fought hard to undermine the global treaty on tobacco control [1], which requires countries to act to ban tobacco advertising and sponsorship.

Recent F1 bullying tactics include the overturning of the tobacco advertising ban in Belgium, after the sport’s governing body the Federation Internationale d’Automobile (FIA) pulled Belgium from the F1 circuit, following the passing of a tobacco advertising law. Since then the race has been re-instated in the F1 calendar.

The most startling evidence of the way FIA chief Bernie Ecclestone operates was revealed when he was recently tricked by a Canadian radio prankster into thinking that he was talking to Canada’s Prime Minister, Jean Chretien.   Referring to Canada’s Tobacco Act which will require the ending of all tobacco sponsorship by 1 October 2003, Mr. Ecclestone referred to the “beautiful relationship” the FIA had had with the Canadian Government in the past and then asked if there was “any way we could continue the exemption we had in the past?” [2].

So far the Canadian federal Government has resisted F1 pressure to extend its exemption for tobacco sponsorship. But the Quebec provincial Government may give in to Ecclestone’s threat to end the Montreal F1 race, by delaying the implementation of the province’s own tobacco sponsorship ban.

Earlier this year, the FIA reneged on its agreement with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to support the phasing out of tobacco money from the sport, supposedly because the EU had brought forward its ban on sponsorship by one year to July 2005 [3]. Since then the FIA has lobbied one country after another to extend exemptions or weaken laws, to allow tobacco sponsorship of F1 to continue.

Deborah Arnott, Director of the anti-tobacco campaigning group ASH, said:

“Formula One’s grubby rulers are clearly determined to see tobacco money continue to flow into their sport. “Glamour” advertising of this kind encourages young people in particular to smoke, and smoking kills. Apparently the FIA could not care less about the misery the tobacco industry causes to millions all over the world.

We applaud the Canadian Government’s resistance to the FIA’s crude blackmail attempts. We urge all countries, particularly those being pressurised into hosting Formula One races, to ensure that tobacco money is kept out of the sport and that effective advertising bans are put in place as soon as possible. Under global and regional agreements, tobacco sponsorship is being phased out and it is therefore in the interests of all sports to sever their ties with the tobacco barons at the earliest opportunity.”




[1] The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control was adopted by the 192 members of the World Health Organization in May 2003. For further information see:

[2] The transcript of the interview with Bernie Ecclestone and humorist radio presenter Marc-Antoine Audette can be viewed at:

[3] See: Formula One – driving up the smoking rate, ASH (pdf)

[4] A report ‘Driving Business Through Sport’ by International Marketing Reports Ltd, investigated the likely impact of the forthcoming EU ban on tobacco sponsorship of sport and revealed that Formula One motor racing can survive without tobacco investment.
Link to pdf of the press release

Further information, including an extract from the above report see:


Contact:   Deborah Arnott 020 7739 5902 (w) 079 7693 5987 (m)

or Amanda Sandford 020 7739 5902

ASH has an ISDN line available for radio interviews


The following briefing note contains further background information on Formula One and tobacco.




Sponsorship as a means of evading advertising bans

Ever since the 1960s, when moves by Governments to restrict tobacco advertising first started, the major tobacco multinationals have invested huge sums in sponsoring Formula One motor racing teams.

Sponsorship has allowed tobacco companies to advertise their brands on television with great effect. With global TV viewing figures of some 57 billion worldwide [1] this represents an extremely good return for the tobacco companies. Indeed Formula One may be the world’s single largest marketing platform.

The attractiveness of Formula One motor racing as a means of promoting cigarettes is made abundantly clear from the tobacco industry’s internal documents. The association with speed, danger and excitement provides perfect symbolism for cigarette pushers and has been instrumental in attracting young people to smoking.

For further evidence of the impact of tobacco sponsorship on smoking see the ASH briefing document available at:

Ties between F1 and Big Tobacco

Formula One’s governing body, the FIA, has retained close links with the tobacco industry for several decades and has successfully lobbied on its behalf to overturn or delay the implementation of tobacco control laws to ban tobacco sponsorship.

To date, the FIA has successfully influenced then German Chancellor Helmut Kohl in 1997, the Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi in 1997, the UK Labour Government in 1997, and the Brazilian and Belgian Governments in 2003. There are no good reasons to believe this kind of tobacco-friendly lobbying will end in October 2006 (as the FIA promised in October 2000).

Current developments

The following countries currently host F1 grand prix races: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Monaco, San Marino, Spain, United States.

Next year, races are also expected to be held in Bahrain and China whilst the Canadian race will probably not go ahead due to the Government’s ban on tobacco advertising.   The FIA, Formula One’s governing body, has just completed a deal with the government of Turkey to build a F1 race track near to Istanbul.

Under the terms of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control all countries signing up to the treaty are required to ban tobacco advertising and sponsorship if such a measure is allowed under their constitution. To date the treaty has been signed by the governments of countries in which 10 of this year’s 16 Grands Prix take place (Austria, Brazil, Canada, France, Hungary, Italy [covering the Italian & San Marino GPs], Malaysia, Spain and the United Kingdom). Two of these races are being dropped next year and Bahrain, China and Belgium (none of which have signed the treaty) are all getting races. 


[1] A cumulative audience of over 57 billion people watched the 17 televised Formula One events in 1999.