Formula 1 Wheels Are Smoking: Tobacco Industry’s Interminable Advertising Influence in Sport

Formula 1 Wheels Are Smoking: Tobacco Industry’s Interminable Advertising Influence in Sport

Mary-Anne Land – PHAA

In 2021, the tobacco industry is projected to spend more than $100 million on Formula 1 sponsorship.

The staggering amount confirms a concerning trend: tobacco industry spending in F1 has increased, reaching its highest levels since 2006—the year tobacco companies were supposed to be banned from advertising in the sport.

It’s no mystery why tobacco giants British American Tobacco (BAT) and Philip Morris International (PMI) have their sights set on F1. It’s a sport that claims more than 400 million unique global viewers, and that is actively working to recruit a new generation of fans. Research estimates that around 61% of new F1 fans are aged under 35 and 36% were under the age of 25.

Tobacco companies are actively working to hook a new generation of users to their products. By allowing them to sponsor teams, F1 is giving the tobacco industry access to marketing platforms and venues it could never use on its own.

PMI and BAT have used non-traditional brands to claim they are not in breach of the sponsorship ban. PMI created the Mission Winnow brand, which it says is about an aspiration to transform the company. BAT has also promoted corporate slogans such as “A Better Tomorrow.” Yet trademarks for both slogans are associated with tobacco products. In addition, BAT has explicitly promoted its nicotine pouch brand Velo and e-cigarette brand Vuse.

STOP’s report, Driving Addiction: Tobacco Sponsorship in Formula One, 2021, details sponsorship spending trends, how F1 is growing its younger fan base, and how BAT and PMI are capitalising on this.

This week, STOP have also published a report on BAT’s extensive and potentially illegal activity to undermine health policy in 10 countries in East and Central Africa. Evidence appears to connect BAT – which often routed payments through third-party companies referred to as “service providers” in order to hand-deliver cash, cars, per diems and campaign donations – to dozens of politicians, civil servants, and journalists. The payments may have helped secure influence on health policies in key African countries.

“Our analysis shows that BAT’s potentially corrupt practices in Africa were not just the work of a few bad apples,” said Andrew Rowell, Senior Researcher, Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, a partner in STOP.

“The geographic spread of the activity, the infrastructure used and the number of senior staff involved suggest that BAT’s payments were routine, with the evidence trail frequently leading back to BAT’s London headquarters. This is not the kind of company any government should leave unregulated or fail to investigate.”

BAT operates in more than 170 countries. Uncovering this exploitation is just the tip of the iceberg and begs the question: where else is this happening?

STOP is a partnership between the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, the Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control, the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease and Vital Strategies, with US$20 million in funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies to launch the partnership.

Photo credit: Chris Peeters from Pexels

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