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.
Official Cigarette of The 1984 Olympics
Advertisements for cigarettes in their purest form have been banned from American radio for years. Still, some tobacco sponsors have their brand logotypes and colours prominently displayed on Formula One race vehicles, banners, and drivers’ uniforms, despite the sport’s exposure to over 40 billion TV viewers annually.
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.” As long as there has been organised athletic competition, tobacco has had a role in it. 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 clubs began playing in 1876.
Many popular cigar and cigarette brands are based on sports metaphors. The warm-up area for pitchers is called “Bull Durham” after a chewing tobacco brand popular in Southern baseball stadiums. In 1911, Hall of Fame second baseman Honus Wagner was one of the few people to publicly reject the attempt to equate baseball and smoking when he asked a cigarette firm to take his likeness off of a tobacco trade card.
Many popular sports from the early 20th century—including tennis, golf, swimming, football, track and field, skiing, and ice skating—were portrayed in cigarette advertisements as requiring the use of tobacco products for optimal performance or health.
With the tagline “To retain a thin physique, reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet,” American Tobacco’s Lucky Strike advertising depicted athletes who would cast an overweight shadow if they didn’t smoke.
During the decades of the 1920s and 1940s, when baseball was the most popular sport in the United States, tobacco companies sponsored every team and featured the sport’s top players, including Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, and Ted Williams, in commercials. As Lou Gehrig put it, “they don’t get your wind and I can smoke as many as I choose,” Lou Gehrig was a big fan of RJ Reynolds’ Camels.
Relieving Community Concerns:
In an effort to calm the public’s rising concern about research linking smoking to lung cancer, athletes began advertising filter tip products on television in the 1950s. While baseball players are not allowed to appear in tobacco advertising while wearing team uniforms, the National Football League hired Philip Morris’ Marlboro as its principal television sponsor.
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. Evidence suggests that the sector blatantly disregarded its own standards. Philip Morris’ then-chairman, Joseph Cullman, pledged lawmakers in 1969 that the company would never utilise athletes to market cigarettes again.
Tobacco companies, however, instead of giving up on TV advertising altogether after the law went into effect in 1971, simply redirected their budgets to produce and sponsor televised sporting events, which proved to be a less intrusive and more cost-effective strategy for maintaining the public’s association with their brands.