The European Commission will be casting a critical eye over recent tobacco deals signed by Formula 1 teams, even if tobacco products aren’t explicitly being advertised.
In recent months, two F1 teams have signed deals that will see them display tobacco industry related products or ‘initiatives’ on their 2019 cars. Ferrari are now backed by the Philip Morris International company’s ‘Mission Winnow’ brand, while McLaren have signed British American Tobacco’s ‘A Better Tomorrow’, with both brands concentrating on ‘potentially reduced risk products’ (BAT) and using science to find alternative and less harmful solutions for smoking (PMI)
While not explicitly advertising tobacco products, which is now widely illegal throughout most of the world, these deals have already created some controversy ahead of the season opener in Australia. Australian authorities are understood to have taken a dim view of the loophole, investigating the Mission Winnow branding, although the Philip Morris group have already issued a statement saying they are confident they are not in breach of any regulations.
In the European Union, where there is a full ban in all member states on tobacco advertising and sponsorship, the Tobacco Advertising Directive 2003/33/EC outlines that the tobacco ban also covers sponsorship that has the indirect effect of promoting a tobacco product. An update of the Products Directive of 2014 also extends this ban to cover electronic cigarettes and other ‘reduced-risk’ products.
According to a statement to FormulaSpy, an EU spokesperson confirmed that “the Commission continues to closely follow the implementation of the bans of sponsorship and advertising as foreseen by the Tobacco Advertising Directive, also in the context of Formula 1. Recently, the Commission has been made aware of these recent initiatives [Mission Winnow & A Better Tomorrow] by the tobacco industry. They will require further close examination.”
Mission Winnow has not had to face the scrutiny of the European Union just yet, having only been promoted from last season’s Japanese Grand Prix onwards – F1 has not been at a European venue since, although the EU’s 2010 advertising directive would still have applied.
Interestingly, it’s not yet evident what effect the impending Brexit situation may have on the McLaren deal as the UK-based team would no longer have to abide by EU directives, instead falling under the jurisdiction of the UK’s own laws. However, EU regulations would still apply to all European rounds of the F1 calendar.