STOP, which is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, crafted the “Driving Addiction” report based on data from F1-dedicated research firm Formula Money.
It’s common knowledge that tobacco is one of the most heavily regulated products in the developed world when it comes to advertising; in fact, even within F1, advertising nicotine and tobacco products is often de facto off-limits in line with many national rules the sport must follow in the countries it operates in.
Both Philip Morris and British American have implemented what STOP calls “non-traditional brands” to circumvent such sponsorship bans, with the corporations touting slogans such as BAT’s “A Better Tomorrow,” despite it being associated with tobacco products.
British American has also explicitly promoted its nicotine pouch brand Velo and e-cigarette brand Vuse as part of its McLaren deal, STOP alleges.
“The [tobacco] industry has got decades and decades of extremely effective advertising information and experience behind it, and they’re really good at what they do,” Chamberlain says.
And while tobacco advertising has been recommended against by many groups including the World Health Organization, Chamberlain says he’s especially concerned by what he sees as its pervasiveness in sport with a young-skewing fan demographic.
Data from market research firm Ipsos suggests that more than six in 10 new F1 fans are under age 35, with the sport continuing to have the second-highest proportion of fans ages 25 or younger out of all global sports leagues.
With Formula One’s growing fanbase, fuelled in part by its expansion into new markets in Africa and the Middle East and its prominence in media with new shows like Netflix’s “Drive to Survive,” there’s a lot of potential for tobacco giants to get their brands into the spotlight. Cigarette companies have also utilized the rise of esports leagues, with British American Tobacco tying its Velo brand to McLaren as part of a new esports series earlier this year that aimed to work around the official F1 video game, which does not feature any tobacco advertising, STOP says.
The report even notes children as young as six have been indirectly exposed to tobacco-linked branding; a BBC children’s news program once used an image of Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton that also included a Ferrari driver sporting Mission Winnow branding, which is tied to Philip Morris.
Philip Morris and British American did not respond to requests for comment.
Chamberlain, who helped author STOP’s new report, says the buck ultimately stops with Formula One and its governing body, the International Automobile Federation. Tobacco advertising “has been allowed by Formula One, they can actually put a stop to this … rather than rely on individual countries” to enforce their own rules, he says.
“The FIA remains firmly opposed to tobacco advertising and continues to stand by its 2003 recommendations,” the International Automobile Federation, using its French-language acronym, said in a statement provided to Ad Age. “We are not in a position to interfere with the private commercial arrangements of teams and their sponsors. We will continue to monitor the compliance with the applicable laws.”
STOP notes there’s a rapidly approaching window of opportunity for Formula One’s governing body to make good on its nearly 20-year-old promise to phase out tobacco and nicotine advertising by the end of 2006. “The election of a new FIA president provides an opportunity to reverse course on a major failure in the sport,” says Mary Assunta, another partner at STOP.
Last year, more than 100 people publicly asked Jean Todt, president of the FIA, to end tobacco sponsorship in Formula One racing; however, Todt’s term is up in December, with STOP now pleading with the sport to elect new leadership that will uphold F1’s past commitments and put the well-being of its young fans first.
“Fans of F1, especially its growing youth fan base, should not be subject to harmful products marketed to them through the sport,” Assunta continues, calling on the Federation, the individual racing teams and Liberty Media, which has controlled F1 competitions since 2017, to ditch Big Tobacco sponsorships for good. “Until they do so, international organizations should not partner with the sport or its executives.”