In the early days of television, young sports fans watching their favourite team were exposed to a constant stream of cigarette commercials containing testimonials by famous sportsmen. Nearly all people involved in tobacco prevention now can only picture this.
The days of blatant cigarette commercials airing on American television and radio have long since passed.
However, despite the fact that Formula One auto racing is watched by over 40 billion people annually on television, the sport continues to have multiple cigarette sponsors whose brand logotypes and colours are prominently displayed on the race cars, banners, and drivers’ outfits.
In October of this year, Baisha, China’s largest cigarette firm, signed a 21-year-old Olympic gold medalist hurdler to endorse a top cigarette brand in print ads and commercials.
This was despite the fact that 1984 was the last Olympic Games to have an official cigarette sponsor. The CEO bragged, “Everyone adores Liu Xiang, and expects he will climb higher and faster and preserve his sunny, healthy, progressive image.” 1
The use of tobacco in conjunction with organised sporting competition dates back many decades. Trading cards featuring images of players from the National Baseball League first appeared in cigarette packages just a few years after the league’s first season in 1876.
Many cigarette and cigar brands took their names from sports. Bull Durham, a popular brand of chewing tobacco popular in the South, is the source of the name of the warm-up area behind the fence where pitchers go before games.
In 1911, Hall of Fame second baseman Honus Wagner took a stand against the attempts to link baseball and smoking by requesting that a cigarette company remove his image from a tobacco trade card.
Cigarette ads from the early 20th century frequently portrayed sports like tennis, golf, swimming, football, track and field, skiing, and ice skating as activities that required a cigarette for increased performance and even good health.
With the tagline “To retain a thin physique, go for a Lucky instead of a sweet,” 2 American Tobacco’s Lucky Strike advertisements portrayed athletes who, if they didn’t smoke, would cast a fat shadow.
During the decades between the 1920s and the 1940s, when baseball was the most popular sport in the United States, many of its top teams and players were sponsored by tobacco companies. “They don’t get your wind, and I can smoke as many as I choose,” Lou Gehrig reportedly said in favour of R.J. Reynolds’ Camels.
Reducing Public Concern
During the 1950s, when allegations linked smoking to lung cancer were spreading fear, athletes began advertising filter tip products on television.
Although baseball players are not allowed to appear in cigarette advertising while in uniform, the National Football League signed Philip Morris’ Marlboro as its principal television sponsor and allowed players to participate in tobacco ads.
Tobacco companies anticipated strict federal regulation and, in 1964, adopted a voluntary Cigarette Advertising Code that banned portraying “any person well known as being, or having been, an athlete…[or] any person participating in, or obviously having just participated in, physical activity requiring stamina or athletic conditioning beyond that required for normal recreation” as a smoker.
The policy also forbade the use of testimonials from athletes and famous people. The evidence indicates that the sector blatantly disregarded its own standards. 3
Philip Morris’ then-chairman, Joseph Cullman, pledged lawmakers in 1969 that the company would never again utilise athletes to advertise cigarettes if television and radio broadcast bans were enacted.
When the law was passed in 1971, tobacco companies simply redirected their TV advertising budgets to the production and sponsorship of televised sporting events, which was both cheaper and less intrusive than traditional TV commercials for the purpose of maintaining the public’s association with the cigarette brands.
Sponsorship By Companies
In the early 1970s, Philip Morris’ Virginia Slims Women’s Tennis Circuit and R.J. Reynolds’ Winston Cup NASCAR (National Association of Stock Car Racing) Race Series were among the first nationally televised athletic events.
In 1983, Lorillard’s KENT cigarette brand launched a weekly column in The Wall Street Journal titled “KENT Sports Business,” reflecting the growing interest of major corporations in sports sponsorship as a form of promotion.
By 1990, there were over 20 cigarette-sponsored sports broadcast on American television. Eight distinct types of motor racing were among them. Only two of the 28 teams in Major League Baseball did not have large Marlboro or Winston cigarette advertising in the outfield. 2 It was the same story in the NBA and NFL.
(Such advertisements were outlawed by the NHL in its arenas in 1981.) Even though it was illegal to promote oral tobacco products on television after 1986, major manufacturers nevertheless found a way to do so.
They started sponsoring rodeos, drag racing, stock car racing, monster trucks, and other dangerous TV events led by UST (now USST, or United States Smokeless Tobacco Company), makers of SKOAL and Copenhagen, and Swedish Match, maker of Red Man Chew.
In 1994, R.J. Reynolds admitted that they sponsored 2736 athletic events annually, including the Winston Cup races that were broadcast nationwide and gave rise to the weekly television show “Inside Winston Cup Racing.”
At auto races, gorgeous women would hand out packs of Winston cigarettes. Before each race, thousands of young guys lined up to take their picture with Miss Winston.
Throughout the race, electronic scoreboards played Winston commercials, and videotapes with these commercials were distributed to spectators at the many Winston kiosks spread throughout the stadium.