Tobacco Sponsorship and Advertising in Sport

Tobacco Sponsorship and Advertising in Sport        
Prepared by  Prepared by: Dr Ralph Richards and Christine May, Senior Research Consultants, Clearinghouse for Sport, Sport Australia
evaluated by  Evaluation by: Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, VicHealth (December 2015)
Reviewed by  Reviewed by network: Australian Sport Information Network (AUSPIN)
Last updated  Last updated: 26 October 2017
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Tobacco sponsorship of sporting organisations, teams, and events in Australia has been banned because of the ethical and public health considerations surrounding tobacco products.

In 1962 the Royal College of Physicians of London published the first comprehensive report on smoking and health, presenting evidence that smoking is a major health hazard. Two years later, the United States Surgeon-General issued a substantial report drawing similar conclusions.

Key Messages 


Tobacco sponsorship and advertising in Australian sport has been banned through government legislation, because of the public health considerations surrounding the use of tobacco products.

In the United States the first attempts to restrict cigarette advertising in broadcast media came under a ‘fairness doctrine’ that required broadcasters to air anti-cigarette advertising if they wished to carry pro-cigarette advertising. The result of this strategy was that cigarette manufacturers withdrew from television advertising, but continued for several years to deliver their product messages through sponsorship. Ultimately, sports organisations, teams, and events adopted the position that sponsorship by tobacco companies was unethical.

In Australia, tobacco advertising has been banned from television since 1976. State Governments have also responded to the health risks of cigarette smoking by supporting alternative messages, such as ‘quit smoking’ campaigns; similar campaigns have continued for many years as a central strategy in health promotion.

Tobacco in Australia provides an index of research on the detrimental health effects of smoking and exposure to cigarette smoke. The weight of research underpins the decision by sporting organisations to break all ties with tobacco products. Health promotion sponsorship of sporting organisations and sports events was initially used as a replacement for tobacco sponsorship.

VicHealth action agenda for health promotion (PDF  - 1.1 MB), VicHealth, (2013). Reduction (and elimination) of tobacco use is still seen as a health promotion issue and this report lists ‘prevention of tobacco use’ as a high priority.  Tobacco smoking is still the leading single preventable cause of disease and death. The less people smoke and are exposed to harmful second-hand smoke, the greater the health gains across the community. To achieve these gains, organisations such as VicHealth have targeted young people, encouraging them to not take up smoking. Sport is a good vehicle for reaching young people and delivering the anti-smoking message. VicHealth and other organisations also continue to build the evidence base that supports anti-smoking; to know what works and ensure that this knowledge is translated into action. 

Quit Now, Australian Government, Department of Health. The Quit Now campaign provides information on the health risks of smoking, and what individuals can do to reduce or eliminate their dependence on tobacco use.

An advertisement is intended to foster positive attitudes, beliefs, and expectations about a product. When tobacco products are associated with activities such as sport, having a strong appeal to youth, there is an increased risk that smoking behaviour will be seen as acceptable, even desirable. The link between exposure to tobacco promotion and smoking behaviour is well documented. Research has confirmed that the impact of tobacco advertising is significant; even when cultural background, socioeconomic status, or parental and peer smoking behaviour is taken into consideration.

According to Quit Victoria, by 1980 the three largest tobacco companies were also the three biggest sponsors of Australian sport. In 1989 alone, the tobacco industry put $20 million a year into NSW Rugby League and $14 million into Cricket. Because tobacco advertising on Australian television had been banned in 1976, on-ground advertising and naming rights to competitions and events was strategically used by cigarette manufacturers to provide product exposure through sport. During a day’s play of a cricket test, the Benson & Hedges name and logo might appear on television screens for 90+ minutes, but not as a television advertiser. [source: The Sydney Morning Herald, (16 December 1999)]

Australia became one of the first countries to legislate an end to the association between tobacco sponsorship and sporting events.  The Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act 1992 expressly prohibited most forms of tobacco advertising, including the sponsorship of sporting events. Existing sponsorships were allowed to run their course, but no new sponsorships were permitted by the Act. The majority of sporting organisations quickly moved to replace tobacco company sponsorships and by 1998 all domestic sponsorships had expired. However, under Section 18 of the Act the Minister for Health and Ageing had discretionary power to grant an exemption to the general ban on tobacco advertising in Australia for sporting events of international significance.

An amendment to the Act in 2000 removed this discretionary power. At the time of the amendment there were still five events of international significance permitted to carry tobacco sponsorship when they were staged in Australia: the Ladies Masters Golf; the Indy 300; Rally Australia; the Motorcycle Grand Prix; and the Formula One Grand Prix. During the phase-in period three of these events were able to acquire alternative sponsorship. The Motorcycle and Formula One Grand Prix events carried tobacco sponsorship and advertising until the deadline. Australian sport became totally free of all tobacco sponsorship of events from October 2006.

The 1987 Victorian Tobacco Act prohibited certain types of cigarette advertising and led to the establishment of the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth). The following year VicHealth launched a quit smoking campaign and introduced sports sponsorship to effectively buy-out tobacco company sponsorship of sport.  Tobacco sponsorship replacement became health promotion sponsorship; including anti-smoking, healthy eating, mental health, and skin cancer prevention messages.  The Western Australian Health Promotion Foundation (Healthway) was established in 1990 and other States developed their own health promotion grant programs through their respective departments of health, or through departments of sport and recreation.

The earliest smoking bans were instituted to protect public safety (i.e. smoking ban in cinemas) and public transport (i.e. aircraft, public buses, and trains). The issue of exposure to ‘second hand smoke’ led to the adoption of smokefree policies and legislation, principally by State Governments.  A summary of State legislation appears on the Tobacco in Australia web site.

Public opinion about smokefree environments. The Cancer Council, Victoria, has compiled extensive background information and research references about smoking and exposure to cigarette smoke. The scientific research is unequivocal about the serious health risks of both tobacco use and exposure to second-hand smoke. Public opinion, among both smokers and non-smokers, favours restricting the risks associated with exposure to secondhand smoke. Workplace health and safety legislation has been used to ban smoking in workplaces and child protection legislation has been used to develop smoke free policies in spaces frequented by children. State legislation bans smoking in enclosed sports venues, as well as many outdoor sport and recreation venues. Smoke free legislation has also been adopted by State and Territory Governments and local jurisdictions to cover beaches, parks and many other public areas used for informal sport and recreation.

The sport of baseball has historical links to tobacco product promotion, particularly ‘smokeless tobacco’ (i.e. chewing tobacco). Within the sport, Major League Baseball (MLB) was the first professional league, established in the USA in 1876, and a culture of smokeless tobacco use has flourished ever since. Although cigarette smoking has been restricted or banned from sport for many years, the use of ‘smokeless tobacco’ remains a concern in the USA.

Tobacco legislation in many States in the USA has broadened the prohibition on tobacco products to include smokeless tobacco use in public places and sporting events. The television exposure of MLB players chewing tobacco during competition has served as ‘informal’ advertising and tacit endorsement of tobacco products for many years. Although MLB has not conclusively ruled out the use of smokeless tobacco, the Major League Baseball Players Association has taken a stance. Their campaign to eliminate tobacco use, Knock Tobacco out of the Park, was launched in 2010.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the USA, published a report in 2013, highlighting the high use of smokeless tobacco among high school age athletes (principally male baseball players). The CDC survey found that high school and college athletes use smokeless tobacco at nearly twice the rate of non-athletes, and despite a drop in smoking rates, the use of smokeless tobacco among athletes increased 11 percent from 2001 to 2013.

Where possible, direct links to full-text and online resources are provided. However, where links are not available, you may be able to access documents directly by searching our licenced full-text databases (note: user access restrictions apply). Alternatively, you can ask your institutional, university, or local library for assistance—or purchase documents directly from the publisher. You may also find the information you’re seeking by searching Google Scholar.


  • Effects of F1 Grand Prix sponsorship by cigarette brands on adolescents’ cognitive and behavioural responses, Chebat J and Daoud F, International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship, Volume 5, Number 2 (2003). This study focused on the effects of tobacco companies’ sponsorship at the Montreal F1 Grand Prix on adolescents’ cognitive and behavioural responses. A questionnaire was administered to a sample of adolescents before and after the Grand Prix. The findings tend to confirm that such sporting events are efficient ways to increase cigarette consumption and brand identification, especially for older male adolescents.
  • Impact of tobacco advertising and promotion on increasing adolescent smoking behaviours, Lovato C, Linn G, Stead L, and Best A, The Cochrane Collaboration, published online (5 October 2011).
  • An inside view of tobacco sports sponsorship: an historical perspective, Lavack A, International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship, Volume 5, Number 2 (2003). Sponsorship of sports has been an important promotional avenue for tobacco companies in North America and around the world. This paper examines the corporate sponsorship objectives and strategies of tobacco companies, based primarily on historical documents from the British-American Tobacco Company; which has operations in over 80 countries, including Australia. Tobacco company sponsorship practices include: developing sponsorship evaluation guidelines; extensive pre-promotion and post-promotion strategies for sponsored events; making full use of the event site for sponsorship identification; ensuring that sponsored events are televised; and using an extensive array of public relations practices to ensure maximum news coverage of a sponsored event.
  • Protecting children from exposure to environmental tobacco smoke, Sweda E, Gottlieb M, and Porfiri R, Tobacco Control, Volume 7 (1998).
  • Smokefree Sports – Final Project Report (PDF  - 1.7 MB), Foweather L, Trigwell J and McGee C, Liverpool John Moores University and Liverpool City Council (2014). Sport contexts provide an opportunity to deliver healthy activity and health promotion messages en masse, in an environment that is fun. The Smokefree Sports project ran a school-based programme for over 1000 Year 5 children in 32 Liverpool primary schools. This is the largest smoking prevention intervention to use sport in the United Kingdom. Over half of children (57.4%) reported to have at least one family member that smokes; 18% had at least one friend that had experimented with smoking; and 40% were exposed to second hand smoke at home or in cars. In response to the program, 87.5% did not intend to smoke, with a higher proportion of girls stating they would not take up smoking. Intention to smoke or not to smoke was significantly linked to family smoking status. Evidence suggests that smoking patterns begin prior to experimentation with the development of attitudes, beliefs and intentions to smoke. When findings from previous research are considered in line with those from the current study, it is apparent that 9-10 year old children represent an important cohort for primary prevention. 
  • Tobacco advertising ban in Australia, fact sheet 252, National Archives of Australia. Numerous records relating to the tobacco industry and the lead-up to the ban on tobacco advertising in Australia are catalogued in the National Archives. Records include correspondence files, policy files, reports and Cabinet Office files.
  • Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act 1992, Commonwealth of Australia, consolidated Acts.
  • Tobacco promotion and the initiation of tobacco use: assessing the evidence for causality (abstract), DiFranza J, et al., Pediatrics, Volume 117, Number 6 (2006). This review looks at the evidence of a causal link between exposure to tobacco promotion and the initiation of tobacco use by children. This review of literature concludes that promotions of tobacco products are used to foster positive attitudes, beliefs, and expectations regarding tobacco use. This fosters intentions to use and increases the likelihood of initiation. Greater exposure to promotion leads to higher risk. This is seen in diverse cultures and persists when other risk factors, such as socioeconomic status or parental and peer smoking, are controlled. Causality is the only plausible scientific explanation for the observed data. The evidence satisfies the Hill criteria, indicating that exposure to tobacco promotion causes children to initiate tobacco use.
  • Understanding the role of cigarette promotion and youth smoking in a changing marketing environment (abstract), Krugman D, Quinn W, Sung Y, and Morrison M,Journal of Health Communication, Volume 10, Issue 3 (2005).
  • The Victorian Tobacco Act 1987, the untold story, book reference, Reading D (editor) VicHealth, second edition (2007).
  • The Virginia Slims identity crisis: an inside look at tobacco industry marketing to women, Toll B and Ling P, Tobacco Control, Volume 14 (2005). This study analysed previously secret tobacco industry documents describing marketing the Virginia Slims brand and how the Philip Morris Company and competitors developed and adapted promotional campaigns targeting women. Tobacco advertisers initially created distinct female brands with aspirational images that would appeal to young women. The need for established brands to evolve to maintain relevance to young women creates an opportunity for tobacco counter-marketing, which could undermine tobacco brand imagery by promoting smoke-free lifestyle images. Young women age 18–24 are extremely valuable to the tobacco industry, but this demographic also attracts attention of tobacco control programs and anti-smoking campaigns. Promotion of women’s professional tennis events by the Virginia Slims brand was a key marketing strategy of Philip Morris

Video iconVideos

  • Lessons from the removal of tobacco sponsorship from sport. FARE Australia, YouTube (17 September 2017). A couple of decades back tobacco advertising was plastered across Australian sports events. Then a rugby league club President spoke out. David Hill led the North Sydney Bears, and wanted an end to tobacco sponsorship. He told Di Martin it’s a story of power, influence and bullying by an industry that controlled the way we thought about sport. Like the name of the rugby league competition. 


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