Big Tobacco's Corporate Sponsorships Criticized
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The tobacco industry is shelling out millions of dollars in corporate sponsorships and donations to health-related causes--a move researchers say is intended to clean up the industry's image.
Between 1995 and 1999, tobacco companies sponsored at least 2,730 events, programs and organizations in the US, according to a report in the September issue of the journal Tobacco Control.
``We estimate that tobacco companies spent no less than $365 million on sponsorship during the study period,'' write Drs. Michael Siegel and N. Jennifer Rosenberg of Boston University School of Public Health in Massachusetts.
The money supported a wide range of interests--with sponsorship of motor sports ($208 million) being followed by donations toward fighting hunger ($104 million).
The performing arts received the largest number of sponsorships at 56, followed by minority-related groups and events with 41. Other key groups that received tobacco companies' support include domestic violence prevention and rodeos.
A large number of sponsorships went to organizations working in public health, in areas such as AIDS and the environment, Siegel said in an interview with Reuters Health.
``By making contributions to organizations involved in public health campaigns, the tobacco companies try to change the public's perception of the fact that they sell products that kill people,'' he stated. ``Sponsorships offset the negative public image that they have.''
Siegel also believes that such sponsorships cause many smaller organizations to become dependent on the tobacco industry's funding. This, he suggested, may cause these groups to be less likely to speak out against smoking or the tobacco industry and make them less likely to support tobacco control policies.
The people who run these organizations may ``fear that if they speak out...they will lose their funding,'' Siegel said.
The researchers urge public health practitioners to keep better track of tobacco industry funding and to ``consider promoting a ban on tobacco sponsorship.''
Such regulation, they note, could be linked to the creation of alternative funding sources for organizations and events.