Plans upsets for Europe-wide tobacco ad ban

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LONDON -- The U.K. has sparked a new controversy in the long-running European Union debate on banning tobacco advertising and sponsorship by announcing that it would only agree to a Europe-wide ban if sponsorship of Formula One motor racing is exempt.

The move comes perilously close to the December 4 meeting of EU member states at which the eight year old proposed directive had looked to have its best chance ever of getting through to legislation.

At that meeting, member states will be voting for the first time on a compromise of the draft directive. If the U.K. and Holland vote for the directive, it will be accepted.

That scenario looked likely until November 5 when details of the U.K.'s new position - announced at a meeting of the EU Council Working Group on Health the day before - emerged.

The new U.K. Labour government, which replaced the Conservative administration last May, had committed itself in its pre- election manifesto to a complete ban on all tobacco advertising and sponsorship at the national level, making the country's former blocking stance on the proposed EU ban look as though it would definitely change.

With Holland also appearing to be ready to change its mind to a "yes", the previous five country blocking minority looked likely to be broken at the December 4 meeting.

Now, however, Commissioner Padraig Flynn, who drew up the draft EU legislation, claims that other member states will not accept the U.K. request to exempt Formula One, claiming that exclusion for a single sport is irrational. Germany was the only state to support the U.K. demand at the working group meeting.

"We only hope the U.K. will change its position because otherwise we see it scuppering the directive, which they say they support," says Barbara Nolan, spokeswoman for Commissioner Flynn. At the meeting, a compromise text had been "advancing well," she says. "We had high hopes for its acceptance on December 4."

There are two more meetings of the working group before the December 4 vote.

Copyright November 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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