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Wednesday, 25 April, 2001, 14:02 GMT 15:02 UK
Footlights' tobacco deal sparks row
Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie
The Footlights launched the careers of Fry and Laurie
The renowned Cambridge University Footlights has come under fire for taking sponsorship from a tobacco giant.

Anti-smoking campaign groups have criticised the student group for allowing its UK tour to be sponsored by British American Tobacco (BAT).

The Footlights has such famous alumni as Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie and Oscar-winner Emma Thompson.

It is to receive 25,000 from BAT to take its production on a 26-date comedy revue around Britain.

The tour celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Beyond the Fringe revue and the 20th anniversary of Fry and Laurie's involvement in the Footlights.

Emma Thompson
Oscar-winning Emma Thompson trod the boards with the Footlights
But campaign groups such as Action on Smoking (ASH) and Health believe it sets a bad example for such a well-known group to be sponsored by a tobacco company.

ASH spokesman John Connolly said: "This is a cynical piece of PR by the tobacco industry as they try to rescue their reputation, and get round restrictions on advertising.

'Cool and funny'

"Sponsoring the Footlights is an attempt to show that BAT is a company with a sense of humour - they might as well put up a banner saying 'if you want to be cool and funny, then smoke'."

But Footlights has hit back at criticism, saying that without the money they would have been forced to scrap the production.

In previous years, sponsorship had come from the Cambridge Arts Theatre, but this was pulled at the last minute.

Director Phil Breen said: "We're not thrilled about being sponsored by BAT but needs must.

"We are not the first Cambridge University organisation to take tobacco sponsorship - a lot of the college balls are sponsored by tobacco companies and the Footlights has previously been sponsored by alcohol companies."

Footlights chairman James Morris added: "We are not making a moral statement - we're putting on a comedy show."

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