Sunday, July 18, 1999 Published at 09:47 GMT 10:47 UK
Snooker star slates cigarette firms
Alex Higgins attracted an army of fans
Former world snooker champion Alex Higgins, who is stricken with throat cancer, has attacked cigarette companies which sponsor the sport.
In Tobacco Wars, BBC1's hard-hitting history of the cigarette, the legendary player blames the industry for his 30-year habit and free cigarettes during tournaments.
But Higgins, 50, tells Michael Buerk that he believes he will beat the disease.
The ex-champion looks gaunt and weak after more than 40 doses of radiotherapy and an operation to remove a cancerous lymph node in his neck. Many were shocked at his appearance at actor Oliver Reed's funeral two months ago.
With a voice reduced to a whisper by the cancer, he said he felt "nothing but disgust" for the industry that still sponsors all the major snooker tournaments.
"The tobacco companies and snooker were as thick as thieves," he said.
"Obviously I think that they have got their advertising for a song for 25 years. Cigarettes are everywhere in snooker. Freebies everywhere. Most snooker players were given free cigarettes."
When Michael Buerk asked him if he was going to live, he said: "Of course. I have got a heart like a lion."
Higgins was known as a 'flair' player and attracted an army of fans. But he led a colourful life away from the sport and drank heavily throughout his tempestuous career.
However, he blames tobacco for his cancer, and says he never realised the full dangers to his health.
Both snooker and Formula One racing are rare exceptions to the current ban on tobacco sponsorship of sport.
Embassy sponsors the world championship and Regal and Benson and Hedges also back tournaments.
The history of the tobacco industry's efforts to promote its products, despite the health dangers, is set out in the three-part series, which also looks at smoking's glamorous appeal.
Other celebrities who talk about their affair with nicotine in Tobacco Wars are actor Edward Woodward, Sandie Shaw, and comedians Dave Allen and Jo Brand.