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Tobacoo row hits Belgian Grand Prix

 Aug 26  - A row over cigarette advertising at the Belgian Grand Prix erupted on Thursday when the Belgian government threatened legal action against anyone displaying tobacco logos at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit this weekend.
Health Minister Magda Aelvoet said inspectors would be sent to the circuit to enforce a law in effect since January which bans all tobacco advertising and sponsorship in Belgium.
"If infringements of the federal law...are noted, tickets will be written,'' Aelvoet said. ``These tickets will be sent to the legal department of the Public Health Ministry.''
If summonses were issued prosecutors would have to decide whether to press charges, Belgian media reported.
Maximum punishment for the offence is a fine of up to 20 million Belgian francs ($517,200) or a year in prison.
Race organisers and the teams sponsored by tobacco companies were in a dilemma because the national law against cigarette advertising conflicts with a decree issued by the Walloon region, where Spa-Francorchamps is located, exempting the grand prix from the ban.
No cigarette advertising was displayed at the track on Thursday as teams arrived for the start of practice on Friday.
"Everybody is waiting. I can do nothing else,'' one race official said. Another said he was waiting for a ``political decision'' on what should be done.
When Belgium's parliament approved the law against tobacco advertising in 1997, Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone threatened to axe the Belgian Grand Prix from the world championship. The race was later granted a reprieve.
The Belgian law is tougher than European Union legislation which ordered most tobacco advertising to be phased out but allowed tobacco sponsorship of Formula One to continue until 2006.