Who: Tobacco companies (Philip Morris France, British American Tobacco France, Davidoff of Geneva France) & the National Committee against Smoking.
When: 11 July 2017
Law stated as at: July 2017
For the 2017 edition of the French Tennis Open, several well-known tobacco companies entered into public relations services agreements with the French Tennis Federation. The agreements include the provision of a private spaces dedicated to their communication and a privileged access to some services.
The CNCT sued the manufacturers on the ground of illicit advertising in favour of tobacco and claimed for damages on the basis of articles L 3512-4 and L 3512-5 of French Public Health Code. Pursuant to these articles, tobacco sponsoring operations are prohibited when they have the purpose or the effect of promoting directly or indirectly tobacco or tobacco products.
The Paris Court of Appeal found Philip Morris France, British American Tobacco France, and Davidoff of Geneva France liable of illicit advertising of tobacco and for these companies’ products, because of respectively:
- the existence of signs wearing the name of “Philip Morris France” around the lodges rented by Philip Morris;
- the reservation of a table for 8 persons (containing public and private decision-makers) in the restaurant on the final day of the French Tennis Open; and
- the allocation of a tent to Davidoff at the end of the central aisle, just after the official partners’ tents, while Davidoff was not an official sponsor.
The Tobacco manufacturers appealed to the Court of Cassation, which overturned the Paris Court of Appeal’s decisions. The Court of Cassation ruled that the performance of public relations services agreements, including
- the rental of lodge in the company’s name, with a signage that was common to all lodges and that did not contain any distinctive sign;
- a privileged access to certain services as to the restaurant; and
- the allocation of a private tent, did not constitute a tobacco sponsorship operation whose object or effect was direct or indirect propaganda or advertising for tobacco or tobacco products.
Why this matters
These three decisions allow a better definition of what is a prohibited sponsorship operation for a tobacco company. If advantages and services granted are the usual ones any company having a public relations services agreement with the FFT can enjoy, without any brand highlighting, then such advantages and services cannot be considered in themselves as promoting tobacco or tobacco products.