No place for tobacco in sport
Tobacco control issues, including tobacco sponsorship of sport, has been a contentious topic for a long time. Despite a causal relationship being acknowledged between smoking and cancer for over three decades, it is only recently that one has witnessed an increase in the number of attempts to prevent sport sponsorship by the tobacco industry.
Sport has become a field of dreams and dollars for tobacco manufacturers. Sport is the vehicle by which we pass many of our treasured national values on to the nation's young people. Tobacco companies also recognize the powerful influence sport has on shaping youthful behavior. They camouflage the harmful effects of tobacco against the backdrop and thrill of athletic victory.
According to a national survey, 80% of U.S. advertising agency executives approve of restrictions on cigarette advertising to reduce its effect on children and youth. The findings and other research findings are in contrast to the advertising industry's long-held position that tobacco advertising does not influence young people's decisions about smoking.
Many argue that tobacco sponsorship is a method used by tobacco companies to by-pass laws and regulations regarding the ban on tobacco advertisement. Sponsorship is the provision of financial support in return for receiving publicity. In many countries, the tobacco companies have been major sponsors of sports and cultural events. In South Africa we can think of the Rothmans Cup, Rothmans July, Gunston surfing, Peter Styvesant promoting Janet Jackson; to mention but a few. Sponsorship has given the tobacco companies many benefits:
1. It has contributed to keeping their name on television and radio, even when tobacco advertising has been banned or restricted in these media.
2. Sponsorship of sport events is especially important. Televised events give the tobacco brand - local, national and, in some cases, international advertising. Sport sponsorship has become an easy way by which tobacco companies can circumvent the advertising ban. Tobacco companies get good value for money when one considers how often the brand names displayed around a sporting arena appear on television.
3. Research seems to suggest that through sponsorship, advertising works. A number of studies have indicated that sponsorships are noticed and remembered by people, especially children. Moreover, the strategy of sponsoring of sport events is undertaken to target youth who represent the major opportunity group for the cigarette company. The tobacco industry counts on the prestige of athletes to sell their products, and by associating smoking with sport they are in a position to reach millions of youth.
4. In Australia, research has shown that that there seems to be a correlation between the most popular brands smoked by children in each state and the tobacco Company's involvement in sport sponsorship. In 1984, a national survey on the smoking habits of children which asked children what brand they smoked most revealed the following statistics: Winfleld was the favorite brand among children in New South Wales and Queensland, where Winfield received high exposure through sponsoring the major winter sport, rugby league.
5. Sponsorship enhances the image of cigarette companies. As sport is very popular, doing something to help sport is well regarded by sports fans, and consequently makes these companies look good.
6. Associating a brand with exciting, popular and highly skilled sports improves the image of the product in people's minds. In this way it undermines health consequences by linking smoking with physical fitness and excellence. In so doing, tobacco companies falsely connect vigorous activities with smoking while shaping an unhealthy regard for smoking in the minds of today's youth.
7. Sporting and other organizations side with the tobacco companies as they are made to feel that they cannot survive without tobacco sponsorship.
Research has indicated that consumers, especially youth, are encouraged to associate smoking with high-profile sports achievers. For example, findings of a survey undertaken by the Australian Medical Association indicated that 87% of children believed that cricketers promote cigarettes - this finding is not surprising since Benson and Hedges had sponsored Australian cricket for 20 years. In India, research findings indicated that, although children were aware that cigarette companies were just sponsors, many made false associations between smoking and sport Interestingly, the notion that smoking improves one's game was the single most significant factor in persuading children to smoke. The second most important factor was the perception that players smoked (none actually did at that time!).
The tobacco industry uses innovative methods to promote their products. These Methods include: signage on the perimeters of the sports ground, signage on the cars for motor sport, international telecasts of high-profile speeches that mention tobacco sponsorship, and ceremonies to present trophies branded with the tobacco's company's name and logo.
Tobacco companies are seen at events (billboards are placed at strategic positions where the camera will linger); tobacco companies are heard at events (they receive regular mention in the commentary); competitors are visual identifiers for tobacco companies (brand colors with logos on competitors and equipment) and tobacco companies are involved in many world sport events such as Formula-1 and rugby.
The marketing methods used not only highlights the name of the company's product, but also promotes the product in subtle ways associating cigarette smoking with strength, sexual prowess, beauty, wealth and elegance.
Children as young as 6 years old associate John Player Special and Marlboro with fast cars. Moreover, these associations were triggered by ads which made no mention of motor racing. Children generally assign particular qualities, including toughness, glamour and "being cool" to smoking certain brand names. Is this not happening here where children see Rothmans written across the chests of their soccer heroes? Furthermore, especially for young men, the linking of tobacco advertising with these exciting symbols of power, speed, glamour and success makes an unequivocal statement: smoking is all these things too.
Tobacco sponsorship within motor racing has been extensive for many years. Presently, seven of the eleven F-1 teams, are sponsored by tobacco companies. It is possible to find other sponsors to replace the tobacco industry. Recently former F-1 World Driving Champion, Jackie Stewart, declined an offer to obtain tobacco sponsorship to assist him in launch his new F-1 Racing Team, Stewart Grand Prix. He said: ... we have made a conscious decision when we set up the team not to accept tobacco money - and we attracting other companies, who want a cleaner image .... Stewart's major sponsors, Hewlett-Packard and Ford Motor Company supported his decision to reject tobacco company support. This has also been seen in South Africa where Standard bank has taken over from Benson & Hedges as the major sponsor of cricket.
A spokesman for the Rembrandt Group which controls about 90% of the cigarette market in South Africa asserted that advertising in the cigarette industry was intended to maintain brand loyalty or persuade smokers to change brands rather than to stimulate the overall demand for cigarettes. A rather strange assertion as cigarette advertising has utilized themes with extensive appeal like sexual success and glamour - themes that entice smokers and non-smokers equally well!
The cigarette industry has been cleverly maintaining that cigarette advertising has nothing to do with total sales. However, it is amusing to hear the suggestion that advertising, a function which has been shown to increase consumption with virtually every other product, somehow fails to work for tobacco products.
Based on the findings that thousands die from tobacco-related diseases each year in South Africa, and many quit smoking permanently each year, it is essential that tobacco companies recruit new smokers in order to survive.
The tobacco industry would argue that it should be free to promote in a glamorous way, a product that will kill half of lifelong adolescent smokers.
Society, and especially children, should be free of advertising pressure to take up or use a dangerous drug of addiction.
There is no safe cigarette and no safe level of smoking.
Tobacco is a legal product only through accident as its production, promotion and use was established in society before its dangers were discovered
Critics may argue that smokers have the right to choose to smoke but there is very little choice available if one considers the highly addictive nature of nicotine
Concerning the rights of children, the 1959 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child and the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child advocates that children have the right to grow up in an atmosphere conducive to health.
Eliminating the bias and allurement of tobacco advertising and sponsorship can strengthen the ability of children and youth to make informed decisions Therefore the ban augments autonomy instead of diminishing it.
Tobacco companies have failed to adhere to the principle of freedom of information. Research findings indicate that tobacco companies are selective in their use of information; only information which least restricts sales seem to be provided by them. Recently, secret documents of tobacco companies revealed a knowledge of the effects of their products 30 years in advance of the medical and scientific community. In addition, former employees, far from experiencing freedom of speech have been pressurized into suppressing this knowledge. Moreover, famous athletes have been prevented by tobacco companies from promoting non-smoking messages.
Governments have the responsibility to ensure the maintenance of free speech for individuals, but are further obliged by national and international laws to regulate and ban the sale of hazardous products.
In conclusion: the intrinsic contradiction implicit in tobacco sponsorship of sport, a healthy pastime that requires considerable lung capacity, makes many sports associations and sport fans uncomfortable with their association with the tobacco industry.
The World Health Organization claims that a complete ban on cigarette advertising and sport sponsorship is one of the most effective means of preventing children from becoming addicted to smoking
When it comes to tobacco advertising and children, our values and ethical principles dictate that tobacco is a hazardous product and its promotion needs to be controlled. We cannot pretend that tobacco sponsorship of sport events does not create opportunities to market cigarettes to children or that we do not have an obligation to do something about it.