Blowing Smoke: Cigarettes Butt In On the
World Cup, Despite a Tobacco Ban
Five months ago, soccer's governing body declared the 2002 World Cup tournament tobacco-free. Someone forgot to tell the cigarette companies.
In Malaysia, fans tuning into televised World Cup games are greeted by a voice-over during the games intoning: "Brought to you by Dunhill," British American Tobacco PLC's upscale cigarette brand. The company, the world's second-largest publicly traded cigarette maker, is also using print ads to hype the World Cup broadcasts and running a sweepstakes for free tickets to see a match live in Japan (the tournament is being co-hosted by Japan and Korea).
While the operators of the World Cup can keep tobacco products and advertising out of the stadiums and prevent the manufacturers from using World Cup logos, they can't tell broadcasters what they can and can't air. Tobacco companies are banned in the U.S. and Europe from airing ads on television, but in some developing countries cigarette makers face no such restrictions.
Lakson Tobacco Co., based in Karachi, Pakistan, has kicked off an ad campaign that urges people to enjoy the World Cup "with a Diplomat," referring to a brand sold in Pakistan. Lakson Tobacco, in which Philip Morris Cos. owns a small stake, started its World Cup efforts in May with a sweepstakes contest splashed across Pakistani television. One top prize is a model of a soccer field made with gold, says Javaid A. Khan, a pulmonary specialist and antitobacco advocate at Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi. Although the commercials are aired after 9 p.m., Dr. Khan is concerned that children will see them. "As if all children go to bed before 9," he says. "None of the Pakistani children go to bed before 11."
Remi Calvet, communications director for Philip Morris International, says Philip Morris doesn't control Lakson's management. "We have absolutely no advertising campaigns related to the World Cup," says Mr. Calvet, speaking of Philip Morris's own brands. A representative for Lakson couldn't be reached.
The flurry of World Cup-related marketing shows how adept tobacco companies are at delivering their selling message, despite increasingly restrictive curbs on cigarette marketing around the globe. The quadrennial World Cup is a potential marketing bonanza too good to resist for many. Multinational cigarette manufacturers are recording an increasing proportion of their sales in developing countries. Tobacco makers, like local broadcasters, aren't obligated to abide by the stated goals of the Federation Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA, soccer's global overseeing group.
More than 18 months ago, the World Health Organization, which is the United Nations' public-health arm, began discussions with Korean officials and FIFA about the possible combination of its World No Tobacco Day efforts with the May 31 kickoff of the 2002 World Cup. The soccer organization gave its blessing.
The memorandum of cooperation calls for FIFA and WHO to restrict tobacco severely in all game venues in Korea and Japan, two of the biggest smoking nations on the planet. Vendors can't sell tobacco products in the stadiums, and smoking is allowed only in designated areas. In addition, a WHO tobacco-free logo was included on the major banners carried before the opening game. There have been antitobacco posters in various stadiums where the games are played and commercials congratulating FIFA for declaring the World Cup tobacco -free.
Despite these efforts, tobacco-control advocates say cigarette makers are using the World Cup to boost sales to young soccer fans. Clive Bates, who oversees the London office of Action on Smoking and Health, a multinational antitobacco group based in Washington, says by sponsoring the 2002 World Cup on Malaysian national television, British American Tobacco is "misleading" young soccer fans into thinking FIFA promotes tobacco use.
Mr. Bates also says British American Tobacco is violating the spirit of the International Tobacco Products Marketing Standards Agreement it signed with Philip Morris and Japan Tobacco International on Sept. 11, 2001, a pact that received scant publicity given the date. The agreement, which among other things prevents British American Tobacco from advertising on TV, doesn't go into effect until December 2002. WHO and Action on Smoking and Health have rejected the agreement as ineffective.
David Betteridge, a spokesman for British American Tobacco, says Mr. Bates is right about one thing. "We would tend to agree with WHO and FIFA that tobacco and football don't go together," Mr. Betteridge says. Since the rights to sponsor the 2002 World Cup in Malaysia were bought before both the marketing agreement and the memorandum of cooperation were signed, Mr. Betteridge says BAT's Malaysian branch has decided to continue airing ads. British American Tobacco has committed to pulling all TV ads in Malaysia by December, in accordance with the marketing pact. The World Cup games conclude at the end of this month.
While FIFA can ban tobacco-related advertising as well as the sale of tobacco products in the stadiums where the soccer games are played, it can't control soccer-related ads that lack a direct link to FIFA or the World Cup.
"This is another example of how the tobacco industry deliberately sets out to pick on all the good things in life and associate them with tobacco, which is one of the worst things in life," says Keith Cooper, FIFA communications director, reached at the World Cup games in Seoul.
At least one tobacco company has backed off its World Cup efforts altogether. Korea Tobacco & Ginseng Corp., Korea's biggest cigarette maker, initially was offering smokers "Time 2002" cigarettes covered with images of soccer players. The Korean government owns 33% of Korea Tobacco & Ginseng. The cigarette packs were viewed as an embarrassment following so soon after Korea and Japan publicly agreed to sponsor a tobacco-free World Cup. Korea Tobacco, which couldn't be reached for comment, no longer makes the packs, although some remain on the shelves.