The sponsor of Hong Kong's richest annual tennis tournament has pulled out. But officials are optimistic they will find a replacement for Marlboro for the October event. The cigarette company was believed to have paid close to US$3 million (HK$23.19 million) for last year's Marlboro Championships, including US$220,000 to champion Byron Black, of Zimbabwe. Marlboro first sponsored the event in 1988 and has brought in stars such as Ivan Lendl, Michael Chang and Andre Agassi. Haider Barma, president of the Hong Kong Tennis Patrons' Association, which organises the tournament, said Philip Morris, which makes Marlboro, had pulled out because of anti-tobacco legislation. 'As far as Philip Morris is concerned, there was no flexibility for them in advertising and promoting their products. They said it was difficult to justify further involvement,' he said. Under the law passed last June, tobacco companies cannot use sporting events to advertise on television and radio. The ban expands to newspapers and magazines next year. Mark Burns, a spokesman for promoters Ken Catton Enterprises, said: 'There was a moratorium this year, but having taken everything into account, Marlboro decided they would not be around this year.' The other major international tennis tournament bankrolled by a cigarette company, the Salem Open, will go ahead as planned in April. Mr Barma said it would not be easy to find a replacement for Marlboro. 'The economic climate is a factor which will make it tough all round. Tennis is also an expensive sport to support.' Mr Barma said his association would not consider going it alone. But he said he was optimistic a sponsor would be found by October. Marlboro was unavailable for comment.