EU may pull proposal for tobacco ad ban

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LONDON -- The European Commission may be forced to formally withdraw the eight year old proposal to ban tobacco advertising and sponsorship Europe-wide, the Commissioner responsible has warned.

Commissioner Padraig Flynn's shock announcement follows the U.K. government's revelation that it will not vote in favor of the Commission's draft directive if it includes a ban on sponsorship of Formula One motor racing.

Until this week, the U.K.'s new government had been expected at a December 4 meeting to overturn its predecessors' blocking stance on the proposal, which together with a predicted "yes" vote by the Dutch government, was to give the proposal its best ever chance of making it through to legislation.

Now it looks as though the draft directive may not even make it to a vote.

Commissioner Flynn told British Minister for Public Health Tessa Jowell in a telephone call that the U.K. position "could spell the end to the directive, obliging the Commission to formally withdraw the proposal," his spokeswoman Barbara Nolan says. He spelled out that the Commission had "fought hard to keep the proposal, which dates from 1989, on the table," adding: "We cannot continue indefinitely to maintain a proposal which now has little prospect of adoption."

Another meeting of the EU Council Working Group on Health has been hastily convened for November 12 in an attempt to find some remaining common ground between member states. Sources describe the last November 4 meeting - at which the U.K. dropped its bombshell - as "ending in chaos."

The British government is also coming under intense fire in the U.K. where the favoring of Formula One has led to an outcry from other sports, which will lose tobacco sponsorship (imposed by a new national law even if the EU directive founders) and accusations of a policy U-turn.

The government originally committed itself to a total ban on all sports sponsorship.

It is understood that some of the aggrieved sports bodies, possibly the British Darts Organisation and the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, have written in protest to British Prime Minister Tony Blair this week.

The U.K. Tobacco Manufacturers' Association is heralding the Formula One exemption as a partial victory, but is keeping up the pressure on the government to exempt other sports too, "in the name of fairness."

Copyright November 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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