Kicking Big Tobacco Out of Sports

Action of the Month
May 2001

The focus of this month's action is tobacco & sports, a topic that, judging from many of your recent emails, seems to be a rampant problem worldwide -- and one that former tennis star and Philip Morris Board of Director member Billie Jean King symbolizes all too well. The tobacco industry loves to associate itself with sports because they are a cheap way to reach large, young audiences; skirt tobacco advertising bans; and project an image of health and vitality onto their deadly products.

The purpose of this month's action is to systematically gather information about Big Tobacco's sponsorship of sports around the world and to launch a range of local/international campaigns to kick the industry out of a game in which it obviously does not belong. Thanks to the Association for Non-Smokers Rights of Minnesota, the results of this month's action will be shared with thousands of youth from the U.S. and around the world at the Schwan's USA Cup July 15-21. The "tobacco-free" event is sponsored, in part, by ANSR's Tobacco-Free Youth Recreation program.

Please find below: 1) A list of information and materials to collect. 2) Follow up action ideas for you and your partner, including some specific ways you can help us prepare for the Schwan's USA Cup. In a moment we will send you another email with additional background information.


The tobacco industry has a knack for silencing the very segments of society that represent the greatest threat to its business. By donating money to fire departments, women's organizations, civil liberty groups, and minority communities, the industry has sought to avert attention from issues to which it is most vulnerable. As we say in the U.S., "a dog does not bite the hand that feeds it." The industry is also an international expert in projecting the exact opposite of reality in its advertising (Newport: "Alive with Pleasure," Virginia Slims: "Find Your Voice"). The industry's long quest to associate itself with anything and everything athletic is part of its general strategy to co-opt the opposition and counteract public awareness of the health hazards of smoking.

The tobacco industry loves to sponsor sports. For a minimal financial contribution, a tobacco company can gain extensive television coverage, often in countries where such advertising is banned; a huge youth audience; and great public relations. From the Winston Cup to the Virginia Slims tennis tournament, Big Tobacco has infiltrated many of the most popular sports in the world. Car racing, tennis, cricket, soccer, you name it, they've got it covered. In many countries, Philip Morris and BAT exercise a total monopoly on sports sponsorship. Some examples of tobacco and sports' inbreeding around the world:

  • In Uganda, BAT promotes its "Sportsman" brand with a "Beat the Odds" campaign: "Buy 4 sticks of Sportsman cigarettes to qualify for an entry form ... or a pack to quality for 5 entry forms." Promotional prizes include: cash, bikes, wall clocks, polo shirts, and umbrellas. Sportsman's logo is a white polo player. (source: Philip Karugaba)
  • In Sri Lanka, one of the Ceylon Tobacco Company (owned by BAT) board members was just appointed to chair the interim board of the Sri Lankan Cricket. The new chairman recently held his first press briefing at which he carried two packs of cigarettes and lit a cigarette. Prior to this, smoking was not allowed in the [Sri Lankan Cricket headquarters] building. (source: Pamodinee Wijayanayake)
  • In Papua New Guinea, the tobacco monopoly pledged $30,000 for the Cambridge Cup (the regional rugby football championships) in 2001, and $15,000 for the BAT Papua New Guinea Golfing Classic also in 2001. They also support sundry other sports and sporting teams, notably basketball, football. Several provincial/urban football teams are sponsored directly by the tobacco monopoly, ... and provided equipment/uniforms that bear the cigarette brand name. (source: Colin Richardson)

Perhaps most outrageous is the U.S. tobacco industry's sponsorship of U.S. athletes abroad. Marlboro and Salem sponsor U.S. tennis start Michael Chang in Asia.
See "Michael Chang's smoky image abroad" (Asia Week)

The resulting alliances between tobacco and sports interests serve the industry well. Once they are dependent on tobacco industry funding, many sports associations balk when legislators try to pass comprehensive advertising bans.


Ugandan "Sportsman" advertisements and other examples of the tobacco industry's promotion of sports and athletic

Tobacco sponsorship of Formula One and its effects. ASH UK Paper.

List of tobacco company-sponsored sports events in Asia (Asia Adweek 1999)

Tennis stars Pat Cash, Michael Chang, Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe all appeared in live matches in Malaysia sponsored by RJR. See "U.S. Aided Cigarette Firms in Conquests Across Asia" by Glenn Frankel (Washington Post)


In order to paint a comprehensive picture of the tobacco industry's sponsorship of sports around the world (especially soccer/football), we need you and your partner to collect, share, and compare the following information and items, as available:

  • List sports that are sponsored by tobacco companies in your respective communities and countries. Indicate sponsoring company or brand. With what age group are these sports most popular? How does the company advertise its sponsorship of the sport? Does this practice break any laws? Take photos of tobacco company advertisements at and for sports events.
  • List cigarette brands with names or logos that reflect sports-related themes. Take photos of advertising and promotional items for the brand.
  • If possible, collect information on how much money tobacco companies spend to sponsor various sports events.
  • Collect examples of any and all cases of tobacco industry influence over sports institutions, e.g. a partnership between Philip Morris and a Ministry of Youth and Sports.
  • List the names of popular athletes, particularly U.S. and U.K. ones, that are frequently sponsored by tobacco companies in your country. Collect examples of promotional items that bear the athlete's name and/or image. Indicate sponsoring tobacco company and/or brand.

Essential Action recommends that you and your partner write up a mini-report of your findings to share with us and the media. Essential Action can assist you in generating media coverage.


Once you have collected the above information and items, you and your partner can develop an action campaign. If appropriate, Essential Action can help you mobilize other GPTC partnerships to support you. Here are some ideas. Feel free to come up with additional ones of your own.

1) Launch an international letter-writing or petition campaign targeting a particular sports association and/or athlete, demanding that they to cut their ties to the tobacco industry immediately. The campaign could be supported by protests at tobacco industry-sponsored sports events or outside the athlete's office or home. Such activities are useful in putting a face on the industry. Public shaming is an effective negative public relations strategy.

2) Meet with local sports associations and urge them to go "tobacco-free," e.g. publicly ban the possession, sale, use, and advertising of tobacco products at sports events. For more information on developing tobacco-free policies and tobacco-free zones, check out ANSR's Tobacco-Free Youth Recreation site at

3) Recruit and publicize the names of sports associations and athletes that agree to reject industry offers of sponsorship and to actively promote tobacco control at sports events.

4) Assist Essential Action and the ANSR in preparing for the Schwan's USA Cup in July (and for upcoming events that may arise) by:

  • Sending photos and items listed above for an exhibit on "Big Tobacco & Sports." Soccer examples are particularly desired.
  • Collecting interesting "tobacco & sports" facts and anecdotes from your and your partner's countries to include in an event "passport."
  • Contributing to an article to be published during the event or on its website.
  • Suggesting a national or international letter-writing or petition campaign that event participants can support. Should be related to tobacco and sports, ideally soccer.
  • Sports and tobacco information from you and your partner's countries that can be included in the information packets given to soccer coaches from your countries.

Further ideas? Questions? Contact:

Essential Action
Global Partnerships for Tobacco Control

P.O. Box 19405 ~ Washington, DC 20036
Tel: +1 202-387-8030 ~ Fax: +1 202-234-5176
Email: [email protected]