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Having started in a surreptitious way, the advance of Formula One (F1) on the previously auto-sportingly uninterested people of Turkey went public in 2003, when a curious ceremony was held to begin work on the country’s first F1 track (see Tobacco Control 2003;12:346–8). It was curious not because the prime minister attended, but because he appeared to feel no embarrassment about the site. Any such construction was supposed to be strictly forbidden there, due to it being a protected forest area that also serves as a collection basin for Istanbul’s drinking water. Nor did the premier appear to be concerned about apparently giving in to pressure from F1 bosses to allow tobacco sponsorship as a condition for organising a Turkish F1 race, even though Turkey had passed a total ban on all tobacco promotion. Health advocates got their protests as far as the mayor of Istanbul, who confided that the issue was beyond his authority: the prime minister had decided the project should go ahead.
Confusingly, government authorities and the Turkish Automobile Federation subsequently sought to reassure the public health community that the race would, after all, be tobacco-free. If the tobacco companies agreed, presumably they had in mind the sort of “tobacco-free” extravaganza of tobacco promotion seen earlier this year in Malaysia (see Tobacco Control 2004;13:106–7). Brand promotions have already begun to appear in public places in Turkey, as part of the run-up to the first race, scheduled for 2005. A Benson & Hedges (B&H) car was displayed recently in Metroland, a large shopping mall in Istanbul, proclaimed as part of a world roving activity including Bahrain and Shanghai, two more of the new “Let’s keep tobacco money after all” F1 venues.
The Istanbul display was opened by the mayor of Sisli, the district where Metroland is sited. He already had experience of tobacco promotion, having organised a Spring festival in his municipality with sponsorship from Japan Tobacco (JT), but at least with that one, he sounded contrite when responding to critics, saying he had not known of JT’s involvement because a PR company had done all the work. While presumably he realised that B&H was a cigarette, he may not have thought about the fascination exerted by racing cars on young children. But when he read about the car display in the newspapers, complete with large photographs of the B&H car, he should have spotted the very essence of tobacco companies’ love of F1, a child clearly in thrall to all that power and glamour.