BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ The 15 European Union nations struggled today with proposals to ban tobacco advertising and eventually eliminate all sponsoring of sports by cigarette makers.

But Germany, which opposes the ad prohibition, lobbied European health ministers for votes against the plan or, at the least, abstentions. Already Spain has said it would abstain for the sake of European unity, casting doubt on prospects for passage.

The European Commission has been trying since 1989 to get governments to crack down on tobacco advertising and sponsoring.

Under the EU's complex voting system, Germany and other opponents, including Greece and Austria, would not be able to stop the measure. But if Spain abstained, there would be too few votes to adopt a ban.

The draft legislation would outlaw all advertising, except at stores selling tobacco. It also would ban indirect advertising, such as for apparel bearing the name of cigarette brands, and forbid tobacco firms from endorsing sports and cultural events ``organized at world level,'' such as Formula One races and tennis tournaments.

Germany considers tobacco advertising a trade rather than health issue that is better left to individual nations to regulate. It also has problems with the EU subsidizing the production of 350,000 tons of tobacco each year yet wanting to disrupt its marketing.

Britain, under a Labor government, is more disposed now than in the past toward banning tobacco advertising in Formula One racing _ whose cars and banners bear the names of cigarette brands in big letters _ if Formula One gets ample time to find alternative sponsoring.

Tobacco ads already are outlawed in Finland, France, Italy, Portugal and Sweden. Belgium will ban them as of 1999. In some form or other, they are still allowed in nine EU nations.