Formula 1 Still Benefiting From Tobacco Sponsorships, Despite Public Promise To Cut Ties With The Industry
PMI sponsors Ferrari through the Mission Winnow, a campaign dedicated towards promoting alternatives to combustible cigarettes, like e-cigarettes.

The racing sport Formula 1 (F1) has made more than US $4.4 billion in advertising and sponsorship from tobacco companies in the past seven decades, according to a report published by F1 industry monitor Formula Money and global tobacco industry watchdog STOP.

The first-ever analysis of its kind, Driving Addiction: F1 and Tobacco Advertising, was published just ahead of the British Grand Prix in Silverstone, scheduled for this weekend.

Phillip Morris International (PMI) and British American Tobacco (BAT), two tobacco industry powerhouses, are upping their spending on F1 this year, budgeting US $115 million in the 2020 season. In the 2019 F1 season, PMI and BAT spent US $100 million on sponsorship and advertising.

“For tobacco companies, the benefits are clear. This is a global sport that draws more than 500 million fans worldwide, mostly young and male—a prized demographic,” co-author on the report Caroline Reid said in a press release.

Of F1’s 500 million fans, 62% of new fans accumulated in the last two years were under the age of 35, according to the report. More than 90% of racing fans in the United States are male. Smoking is already more prevalent in young men than any other demographic, and few gains have been made in reducing the worldwide incidence of smoking in young men until recently.

F1’s governing body, the FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile), made a public commitment in 2001 that it would ban tobacco sponsorship from international motor sport by 2006, in line with a World Health Organization treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC). In 2006, the commitment was watered down to a “suggestion” to turn down tobacco sponsorships. However, two decades later, the sport continues to accept tobacco industry involvement.

“PMI and BAT claim that they aren’t directly advertising cigarette brands. But according to trademarks registered by the companies, these brands are associated with tobacco products,” said Phil Chamberlain, a partner in STOP. “The money, ultimately, comes from manufacturing and selling products that contribute to the deaths of more than 8 million people every year.”

The reality is that these deals promote tobacco use to the world at large, including children,”  a spokesperson from the World Health Organization told Health Policy Watch. “WHO encourages all sporting associations, including those governing motor racing, to prohibit tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. This means taking effective action to ensure that member organizations do not permit tobacco advertising, promotion or sponsorship in any form.” 

Under its acceptance of the tobacco industry’s sponsorship, the F1 platform is also unable to partner with agencies like the WHO in order to promote health.

“Under rules created by WHO’s Member States, WHO does not engage with the tobacco industry or others that work to further its interests. This means that partnership with F1 or others providing a platform for the tobacco industry to promote tobacco use is off limits,”  said the WHO spokesperson.

Image Credits: Flickr: emperorrnie.