BAT uses World Cup, English Premier League and top British players to promote smoking in third world

Thursday 23 May 2002

ASH news release: Thursday 23rd May 2002

Tobacco giant sidesteps FIFA to muscle in on World Cup … and uses Premier League superstars and FA Cup to push Dunhill cigarettes in third world

Despite FIFA’s strict policy of keeping the World Cup out of the grasp of the tobacco industry, British American Tobacco is exploiting the event in developing countries as part of a wider unauthorised exploitation of football and top star to promote cigarettes.  FIFA’s agreement with World Health Organisation states [1],

WHO and FIFA agree that tobacco and sports do not mix and that tobacco in any form must be removed from all events associated with FIFA. This policy will start with the 2002 FIFA World Cup.

To sidestep FIFA’s and WHO’s ‘Tobacco Free Sport’ initiative BAT will be sponsoring the television coverage of the World Cup 2002 matches in Malaysia to promote its Dunhill brand [2] and capitalising by advertising (view advert left) its coverage in newspapers.  This means BAT branding will appear on TV, where it will be viewed by thousands of Malaysia’s fanatical young football fans. TV advertising for cigarettes is banned in Malaysia.

Clive Bates, Director of ASH, poured scorn on BAT and its attempt to exploit the World Cup:

“It’s sick, slick and sleazy  – FIFA wants them out of football and no-one wants them exploiting the World Cup, but they just can’t keep their hands off those young football fans. The World Cup is meant to be a celebration of sport and life, not a vehicle for flogging yet more fags to the third world”

Mary Assunta of the Consumers’ Association of Penang, said:

“This World Cup is different from other World Cups as FIFA has tied it up to World No Tobacco Day with the theme of tobacco-free sports. This is a cruel Joke to Malaysia as BAT is bombarding the nation with adverts of Dunhill’s sponsorship of the World Cup.  The majority of Malaysians are not aware of FIFA’s smoke-free policy. BAT is misleading Malaysians with this sponsorship and sabotaging government efforts in its anti smoking initiatives. We cannot enjoy tobacco-free football. This is highly irresponsible and the management in both Britain and Malaysia should be ashamed.”

Not only is BAT abusing the organisers of the World Cup, it is even contradicting its own (inadequate) guidelines on ‘responsible marketing’.  BAT acknowledges that the sponsorship of TV coverage will violate its own guidelines, but uses the excuse that its guidelines don’t come into effect until December 2002 [BAT Malaysia annual report 2001, page 24 – pdf].   BAT has said it will no longer sponsor TV coverage of football, but not until after the World Cup is over…  ASH said this was just another example of BAT saying one thing, but doing the opposite.  Clive Bates said:

If even BAT thinks what they are doing is bad, then it must be very, very bad indeed.  They should just write off the contract and pull their branding.  How can they accept that it will violate their guidance in December and then still go ahead with it in June – and still have the cheek to lecture everyone on their corporate social responsibility?

BAT has also been using the English Premier League to boost its point of sale promotions for its cigarettes in Malaysia.  It has produced a calendar featuring pictures of top players including David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane, Michael Owen, Fabian Barthes and Jimmy Floyd Hasslebaink.  The Dunhill promotion goes under the title “English at its best”.

Initial inquiries by ASH suggest these stars would not lend their names to the promotion cigarettes in developing countries and that BAT has failed to agree or pay for the rights to use images of all these players. The promotion including Beckham, Owen et al is featured in the BAT Malaysia 3Q results presentation [3].  The English FA does not permit any tobacco sponsorship – but BAT still uses its name in advertising [see  images of advert for TV coverage of the FA Cup and advert for promotional event associated with the FA Cup final].

Clive Bates said:

“They’ve tried to associate our most heroic players with smoking and their cigarette brands.  I doubt there is a single Premier League footballer that would allow himself to be used in that way, but BAT has helped itself to a slack handful of the very best players.

The Football Association and Premier League should now ask British American Tobacco exactly why it thinks it has the right to use the Premier League to promote Dunhill in Malaysia.  The players should be on their guard for casual exploitation of their fans by tobacco companies who want to use their image to promote smoking. 

BAT doesn’t seem to give a damn about image rights or abuse of Britain’s finest, but that is just typical of how they act when they think no-one is looking.

But ASH said that FIFA could stop BAT sponsoring the TV coverage if it wanted to, and that it had been warned about this problem in 2000 during Euro 2000.  Lord Faulkner of Worcester, who was Vice Chair of the government’s Football Task Force, took this up with FIFA in 2000 [6] and said

Despite FIFA’s strong words on tobacco they are the ultimate owners of the TV rights and could impose conditions on broadcasters if they wanted to.  I warned them about this during Euro 2000 and said it would be an issue for the World Cup, and now it is and I will be taking this up with Sepp Blatter again.

The desperation of cigarette companies to associate themselves with the World Cup has already led FIFA into to a clash with the Korean tobacco company – in April the company brought out and new range of ‘soccer cigarettes’ [4], then claimed they were nothing to do with the World Cup.  There are also reports that major tobacco companies have been exploiting the World Cup in other countries, such as Pakistan [7] and Niger [8].

BAT is under last night fire from top cancer experts [9][10] who are calling on the company to withdraw its branding from any association with the World Cup.

See article in The Guardian Tobacco giant sidesteps ban on World Cup ads 23 May 2002



Clive Bates +44 (0)20 7739 5902 (w) +44 (0) 77 6879 1237 (m) ISDN available

Mary Assunta + 61 2 93517789 and fax: +61 2 93517420 (currently in Australia)

Lord Faulkner +44 (0)77 8526 1785

Notes and links

[1] Memorandum of Understanding between FIFA and WHO (pdf) and Tobacco Free Sports webpage.

Also see news coverage:

·         WHO press notice 16 November 2001

[2] BAT Malaysia 2001 annual report pages 22-27.

[3] BAT Malaysia 3rd quarter results presentation (pdf) pages 4-5, October 2001

[4] FIFA tells Korean tobacco company to butt out of World Cup – CBS Sports, 2 April 2002 (no longer available online)

[5] ”Our new `soccer’ cigarettes have no direct connection to the World Cup finals” Korean tobacco company – 3 April 2002 [English version no longer available online].

[6] See letter from Lord Faulkner of Worcester to FIFA president JS Blatter, May 2000 and Blatter’s reply of June 2000.   See Lord Faulkner’s follow-up letter to Blatter 22 May 2002. (pdfs)

[7]PAKISTAN: USE OF WORLD CUP FOR TOBACCO MARKETING by Javaid A. Khan, Aga Khan University, Department of Medicine

While all over the world people are working to dissociate sports from tobacco, in Pakistan tobacco companies are using the forthcoming World Cup to market tobacco to the youth of Pakistan. Four weeks before the World Cup, they started airing television programs with highlights of previous World Cups along with extensive cigarette advertising. They have also announced various sweepstakes in relation to football matches, in which over one kilogram of gold is being offered as a prize. The tobacco companies know very well that youth are very much interested and excited about this coming World Cup, and they are making best use of this event to make our youth addicted to tobacco. On the other hand they advertise and say that “we do not target children” and “smoking is for adults only.”  “ENJOY THE WORLDCUP WITH DIPLOMAT CIGARETTE” – Diplomat is a brand of Lackson Tobacco company, a subsidiary of Philip Morris View advert here (courtesy of Essential Action, US)


[8] NIGER: BAT TO BROADCAST WORLD CUP 2002 LIVE ON GIANT SCREENS– Inoussa Saouna, SOS-Tabagisme  and Laurent Huber, Action on Smoking and Health (USA)

British American Tobacco appears intent on undermining FIFA’s tobacco-free policy and on doing everything it can to rob Niger from enjoying a tobacco-free World Cup. In 1996, BAT signed a 10 year contract with the Soccer Federation of Niger (Fédération Nigérienne de Football FENIFOOT). This contract ensures the promotion of BAT Rothman cigarettes in soccer fields throughout Niger.     In 1998 BAT built 7 “New Line” pavilions and placed them strategically in Niamey’s intersections, even in front of schools. These pavilions are a gathering place where youth congregate, play and have access to cheap cigarettes. It is in those pavilions that BAT will broadcast live matches of the World Cup 2002 on giant screens.    Unfortunately BAT’s marketing behaviour will ensure that children will be bombarded with pro-tobacco messages during World Cup 2002 events. The WHO’s message of “Tobacco free sports” will be lost in Niger because BAT is creating a positive association between tobacco and Niger’s number one sport, soccer. What kind of “social responsibility” is this?

[9] Letter from John Seffrin, President Elect of the International Union Against Cancer (UICC) to Martin Broughton Chairman of British American Tobacco (pdf)

[10] Letter from Sir Paul Nurse, Nobel Prize winner and Interim Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK. (pdf)