Anti-smoking campaigners have condemned a decision by Cambridge University's famous Footlights comedy revue to accept sponsorship from a tobacco company.
Tobacco company sponsors Footlights tour
The last minute 25,000 deal with British American Tobacco saved the 28-day tour from cancellation.
It was jeopardised when the original sponsor, the Cambridge Arts Theatre, pulled out.
The Footlights Dramatic Club has launched the careers of stars like Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, Clive Anderson and Griff Rhys Jones.
And current members say without the intervention of BAT the traditional Footlights tour could have been cancelled.
It is due to run from June to October and includes venues in Stratford- upon-Avon and Covent Garden.
Footlights chairman James Morris, 21, who's studying philosophy at Trinity College, said: 'We're not making a moral statement - we're putting on a comedy show.
'What the money will allow us to do is to ensure that the tour will be able to continue running for the next three or four years.
'It will give a chance for young people interested in the theatre to take part in a semi-professional tour and not be restricted by a lack of funds.
'In the absence of funding from the Arts Theatre we will still get the opportunity to put on a major theatrical production which is great.
'I think that the only branding on any of our publicity will say British American Tobacco Plc, which is not one of their brands.
'Smoking advertising is aimed at enforcing brand loyalty and this isn't doing that at all. It isn't going to have a significant advertising effect - if any.
'In going cap in hand to industry you do find yourself involved in situations like this which are not ideal, but that's a very long way from saying it's in any way irresponsible or a problem.'
But John Connolly, spokesman for anti-smoking campaigners ASH, said they were 'disappointed' with Footlights' decision to accept BAT's money.
He said: 'It's entirely understandable that they would want the money.
'But Footlights might as well put a banner up saying if you want to be cool and funny then smoke.
'This sort of thing shows why a ban on tobacco company sponsorship needs to be brought in as soon as possible.
'This is BAT trying to buy themselves a bit of respectability as a corporation by being associated with the arts and the establishment in an attempt to rescue its reputation.
'It's an association with the Footlights tradition, with the university and with the arts generically.
'And also if you try to regulate tobacco sponsorship BAT will say that means Footlights will lose all this money.'
But BAT spokesman Scott Hailstone said: 'We're delighted to be involved in the Footlights tour.
'This is corporate sponsorship to the tune of 25,000. We're not promoting smoking, it's not about promoting our brand.
'If anybody says it's advertising by the back door they're wrong.'
By Stuart Leithes
The University of Cambridge is acknowledged as one of the world's leading higher education and research institutions. The University was instrumental in the formation of the Cambridge Network and its Vice- Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, is also the President of the Cambridge Network.