Formula One motor racing monocrat Bernie Ecclestone doesn't often put a foot wrong. But he may have underestimated the opposition from local antismoking campaigners in his move to shift the sport to the tobacco-kindlier environment of the People's Republic of China.
The eastward move will, Ecclestone hopes, enable him to circumvent the tobacco sponsorship ban now being implemented across the European Union. But China is a signatory of the World Health Organisation's Convention on Tobacco Control and cigarette advertising is officially banned.
Despite this inconvenience, reports Chinese news agency Xinhua, Ecclestone's cohorts believe that next September's Chinese Grand Prix - the first F1 event to be staged in the People's Republic - will receive a government ‘franchise’ - a device that would allow F1 teams to compete emblazoned with tobacco branding. Similar concessions exist in the nation's football and volleyball leagues where teams are sponsored by Chinese cigarette manufacturers.
But diminutive bruiser Ecclestone could have a fight on his hands. Local anti-tobacco campaigners are determined that the only smoke on the new Shanghai International Circuit will be from car exhausts.
Says China Smoke and Health Organisation vp Yang Gonghuan: "It is illegal if there are tobacco ads in next year's F1 event. I will not allow the franchise to organisers … I have to say it would be a big step backward in our tobacco control."
Shi Tianshu, president of the China Motor Racing Federation, sees the situation through yuan-tinted spectacles: "F1 will bring enormous ads and commercial value and improve a lot of related industry and local employment," he says.
In any event the arguments - pro and con - are likely to become academic within the next three years. By the end of 2006, F1 organizing body the FIA has undertaken to phase out tobacco sponsorship altogether.
Data sourced from: www.itv-f1.com (UK); additional content by WARC staff