The territory's two main tennis promoters are hoping Hong Kong's legislators will avoid being influenced by last week's landmark settlement in America which brings a tobacco sponsorship ban in the US closer to reality. Hong Kong lawmakers will this week rule on whether to ban tobacco sponsorship of sports and arts events in the territory, an issue which has sparked furious debate since the motion was proposed by Dr Leong Che-hong on January 15. It comes at a time when legislators in several countries, including Canada and Britain, are taking steps to impose restrictions on how tobacco companies can market their products. In California last week tobacco companies agreed to pay US$368.5 billion, admit that tobacco is addictive and accept extensive federal regulation over their products and their advertising. In return, the companies will benefit from immunity from further punitive liability for deception, fraud or conspiracy which might have occurred in the past. The ruling must now go before Congress and President Bill Clinton before becoming law. 'The US ruling couldn't have come at a worse time,' said Brian Catton, tournament director for Hong Kong's Marlboro Championships, whose sponsor, Philip Morris, pumps in around US$3 million a year. 'I hope the legislators think very carefully. If they want to impose some sort of restriction on tobacco sponsorship they should give us a grace period, and during that time launch a programme in which events will receive some kind of government funding. 'I think, if you ask the people who come to watch our events if they are influenced by cigarette sponsorship, you'll find that they don't care. If they did, they would not come.' Catton was one of many representatives from the sports and arts communities who presented their case to a Bills Committee meeting last week. He was joined by Lincoln Venancio, of Spectrum, which promotes the annual Salem Hong Kong Open tennis tournament, sponsored by R. J. Reynolds. Venancio, however, remained upbeat about the tournament's keeping its place on the international calendar. 'We're happy we were able to present our case to the Bills Committee,' said Venancio. 'I think if there are any restrictions . . . it will be very sad for Hong Kong. 'Unlike other international cities, Hong Kong does not have many big events. Hong Kong is trying to promote itself as a city of events. 'Our tournament is going on to its ninth year and I'm hopeful that it will continue.' In the US, the sport likely to suffer the most from a possible tobacco-sponsorship ban is NASCAR auto racing, whose Winston Cup has been sponsored by R. J. Reynolds for the past 27 years.