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Tobacco Free Sports - Play It Clean

Global deception

What must you do to market a product that kills half of its regular users? What enticements must you resort to in order to addict those regular users early, sometimes as early as nine years old? How do you package death as life, disease as health and deadly addiction as the taste of freedom and a celebration of life?

Look no further than your nearest playground or that shirt on your favourite athlete's back or the shoe, or the bag, or the jacket. Look no further than tobacco companies' own documents that tell you how they promote tobacco in the playground to unsuspecting children. Compare these documents to the public relations spin that the tobacco companies regularly put out--their words don't fit their actions.

In this attempted diversion is the deception. In the deception is disease and in one out of two cases, sure death. Tobacco kills. To replace those who die, the tobacco industry needs to recruit smokers around the world. Nothing is taboo -- not even a forlorn sports ground where children gather to play.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says tobacco is a communicated disease -- communicated through advertising and sponsorship. Perhaps the most pernicious form of that marketing pitch is to be found in stadia and sports arenas worldwide.

Tobacco companies pump millions of dollars every year into sponsoring sports events worldwide. In the United States alone, according to the Federal Trade Commission, the major domestic cigarette companies reported spending $113.6 million on sports and sporting events in 1999. In countries where direct tobacco advertising is banned by law, sponsorship of sports amounts to a cynical manipulation of national laws. Despite a federal ban on tobacco advertising on television, it is estimated that tobacco companies achieve the equivalent of more than $150 million in television advertising every year in the U.S. through their sponsorship of motor sports events.

Tobacco companies claim they are sponsoring sports out of a sense of philanthropic duty. Their internal documents, however, tell another story.

An internal R.J. Reynolds (the company is now owned by Japan Tobacco) memo from 1989 has this to say: ''We're in the cigarette business. We're not in the sports business. We use sports as an avenue for advertising our products. We can go into an area when we're marketing an event, measure sales during an event and measure sales after the event, and see an increase in sales.''

That is no idle boast. When an Indian associate of the British American Tobacco group sponsored the Indian World Cup Cricket in 1996, a survey showed that smoking among Indian teenagers increased five-fold. There was also marked increase in false perceptions about athletic excellence and smoking.

The deception is for the public. The dollars are for the companies. And the death and disease burden is for countries to cope with. Tobacco companies know exactly how many smokers they can get for every dollar spent on advertising in the sports arena. ''We're not handing out money for nothing. We have gone into this very thoroughly and the entire publicity is built around motor racing seen as a fast, exciting and trendy sport for the young and, if you like, the young at heart. That's who we are aiming at in the local market and early indications are that we are on target,'' said Gordon Watson, BAT official quoted in the South China Morning Post in 1984.

The company is on target, but so are the death rates. Some twenty years after that early addiction set in, new studies show that one-third of Chinese men currently under 29 years of age will die prematurely due to a tobacco-related disease. Of the 8.4 million tobacco deaths that will occur by 2020, seven out of ten will occur in the developing countries.

Global appeal

Sport is a celebration of life. From the impromptu game in the park to school teams and local leagues to national championships, world cups and the Olympics--sports inspire healthy living, healthy competition and fun.

Tobacco products, on the other hand, do not celebrate life--they cause disease and death. Tobacco kills more than four million people every year, and is estimated to kill 8.4 million people every year by 2020.

For the professional athlete, tobacco use lowers performance level and can end a career. For the casual sportsperson or participant in a sport for recreational purposes, tobacco use reduces their ability to play the game. For the spectator of sports events, tobacco use and exposure to second-hand smoke contributes to the development of disease and reduces their enjoyment of the game. For sports teams and facilities, tobacco advertising and sponsorship run counter to the ideals of health and fair play embodied in sports. For the companies who co-sponsor sports events along with tobacco companies, the reputation of the "hazard merchants" becomes indelibly associated with their products. In short, tobacco and sports do not mix.

Many athletes, sports fans and spectators are young people. Recent data suggest that one-third of young smokers start before the age of ten. Youth consumption of tobacco is up in many parts of the world. Most people who start so young become addicted to nicotine very early in life. Unable to quit they become heavy users and continue using tobacco throughout their lives. Millions of these young people will eventually die due to tobacco-related causes.

Tobacco companies claim that they do not target youth, but in practice they ensure that sponsorship and advertising flourish at events attended by and are attractive to youth. Team jerseys and caps, tote bags and T-shirts, fields and stadia, cars and sports equipment bearing tobacco brand logos create a positive association between tobacco and the strength, speed, grace, success, fun and excitement of sports.

Global response

Sports federations and sportspeople around the world know tobacco is incompatible with their values and their health. Athletes take pride in their strength, skills, and dedication and in their ability to act as positive role models for all of society. They want to put an end to tobacco's manipulation of sports.

Countries want to reclaim their right to protect public health. WHO's 191 Member States are negotiating a global public health treaty to bring down tobacco-related deaths. The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) will mesh science and economics with legislation and regulation and in some cases, litigation. It will seek global and national solutions for problems such as global tobacco advertising or smuggling--issues that cut across national boundaries, cultures, age groups and socio-economic strata. In fact, the FCTC is a call for international scrutiny and responsibility that normally accompanies a freely available consumer product in the international marketplace.

Under pressure by this global call for an end to the deception and the resulting death, tobacco companies are unleashing yet another attempt to derail meaningful regulation of their corporate activity. In this round of recycled arguments, companies such as British American Tobacco, Philip Morris and Japan Tobacco now promise to enforce "International Tobacco Marketing Standards". They propose to enforce these standards voluntarily and to target advertising only at adult smokers.

WHO says no country has succeeded in designing regulations--especially voluntary ones--that eliminate children's exposure to tobacco advertising while allowing advertising aimed only at adults who use tobacco. Self-regulation invariably fails because it was never meant to succeed -- tobacco companies know this and now so does the rest of the world.

Tobacco Free Sports--Play it Clean

In response to the global appeal for action, WHO and its partners are launching a campaign to clean sports of all forms of tobacco--tobacco consumption, and exposure to second-hand smoke, tobacco advertising, promotion and marketing.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), International Olympic Committee (IOC), Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), Federation Internationale De L'Automobile Association (FIA), Olympic Aid and other regional and local sports organizations will join WHO in this campaign for Tobacco Free Sports. Tobacco free events will be organized all over the world, including the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games in the U.S. and the 2002 FIFA World Cup in the Republic of Korea and Japan.

Athletes, sports organizations, national and local sports authorities, school and university sports teams, sports media and everyone interested in physical activity are invited to join this campaign for Tobacco Free Sports. WHO urges people everywhere to take back their right to health and healthy living and to protect future generations from the preventable death and disease caused by tobacco.

For further information, please contact WHO Office of Press and Public Relations, Geneva. Tel (+41 22) 791 2599, Fax (+41 22) 791 4858. Email: All WHO Press Releases, Fact Sheets and Features as well as other information on this subject can be obtained on the WHO home page