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Mon, Jun 07, 2004 - Page 12 News List

Shanghai bans tobacco ads from Grand Prix

SPONSORS The city announced the ban on the day it opened its new race circuit, putting the brakes on cigarette companies' plans to promote their brands there

AFP , SHANGHAI

Fans of the Ferrari racing team wave its flag at Shanghai International Circuit during the official opening of the China's first Formula One racetrack on Saturday. The first Formula One race is scheduled for Sept. 26.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Cigarette companies' hopes of pushing further into the Chinese market via traditional motor race advertising have hit a chicane, with Shanghai announcing a ban on tobacco advertising at the country's first ever Formula One Grand Prix in September.

However, the ads which traditionally emblazon the cars look set to remain in place amid confusion over the extent of the prohibition.

The ban comes as the economic hub officially opened its new US$240 million race circuit yesterday, with former F1 driver Austrian Gerhard Berger taking an inaugural lap in Michael Schumacher's title-winning Ferrari from last year.

But Shanghai race officials were unable to confirm whether tobacco advertising would be banned altogether, as pushed for by the World Health Organization (WHO) and anti-tobacco groups.

"There will be no cigarette advertising billboards on the Shanghai circuit according to Chinese law," said Sun Weixing, an official with the event organizing committee.

Shanghai International Circuit Co director Chen Qiming did not know whether the cars themselves would sport tobacco ads, but said "we'll follow Chinese laws and at the same time we'll also follow international conventions."

The EU wants tobacco advertising excised from the sport by 2006, but International Automobile Federation president Max Mosley has indicated that with many races moving off the European calendar, tobacco sponsorship could stay longer.

With five of the 10 outfits, including champions Ferrari and rivals Renault, BAR, McLaren and Jordan, backed by cigarette companies, team owners are not eager to do away with tobacco's multimillion-dollar sponsorship deals.

In China the law on cigarette ads remains murky, with some cities such as Beijing banning them completely while others such as Tianjin allow billboard advertising.

China is also a recent signatory to the WHO's Convention on Tobacco Control, which promises a host of restrictive measures involving advertising, marketing, pricing and taxation of tobacco.

However, the National People's Congress has yet to approve the international proposal, which provides a legal loophole for tobacco advertisers.

"It's hard to say exactly when tobacco advertisements will be banned in [all of] China," said Yang Gonghuan, one of the Chinese representatives for the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

The decision to outlaw ads at the 200,000 capacity Shanghai track is at the same time vague, demanding only that references to smoking be removed from around the track, including VIP rooms.

Although advertising is illegal at sporting events in China, it is not clear to what extent the ban applies to motor racing.

China's has 350 million smokers, and tobacco companies, including domestic giant Hongta, are keen to promote their brands in the country.

"It's a very sensitive topic," said Cao Bin, executive manager of Shanghai International Circuit Advertising Company.

"We back the tobacco advertisement ban and at the same time we also respect the international practices where tobacco advertisements do exist," Cao said.

In one sign that Chinese regulators are trying to eliminate tobacco from Shanghai, Marlboro, the Philip Morris brand which for decades has sponsored the prestigious motor sport, lost principal sponsorship rights to Chinese oil giant Sinopec, the official China Daily said.

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