Cigarette-Makers Use TV Motor Sports to Advertise
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Circumventing a US federal ban on TV advertising of both cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, major American tobacco companies have increasingly turned to corporate sponsorships of motor sports events to keep a high public profile
``The magnitude of tobacco advertising that the companies are achieving is extremely high,'' said study lead author Dr. Michael Siegel, an associate professor at Boston University's School of Public Health in Massachusetts.
In the study, Siegel tracked the degree of exposure that various sponsors receive as a result of promoting their products and logos via motor sports.
Siegel focused on information gathered by ``Sponsors Reports'' between the years 1997 and 1999. The service--published by Joyce Julius and Associates of Ann Arbor, Michigan--tallies both verbal mentions of a product or company during a range of sporting events, as well as the second-by-second time during an event that a name or logo remains visible and recognizable on a TV screen.
Siegel focused on 11 different auto racing series that were broadcast on 10 different TV networks over the 3-year period. He found that in 1999 alone an average of 2.4 million viewers saw each of the races on TV--in addition to the over 17 million who actually attended all of them over the course of the year.
With such exposure, the researcher calculated that the tobacco companies gained almost $157 million worth of TV advertising exposure in 1999 and over $410 million for the whole 3-year period. He further noted that in 1999 alone, nine different brands of tobacco products were able to amass almost 57 hours of TV exposure and over 8,400 verbal mentions through such race sponsorships. The findings are published in the current issue of American Journal of Public Health, journal of the American Public Health Association.
Siegel concluded that the recent signing by most tobacco product producers of the multi-state Master Settlement Agreement--severely limiting the use of TV ads for the selling of cigarettes--has not sufficiently accomplished its intended goal of curtailing tobacco exposure through this medium.
Also, Siegel noted that the November 23, 2001 deadline for limiting tobacco company sponsorships to a single sporting event or series does not hold out much promise of significantly closing this advertising loophole. He predicted that the dollar value of such TV exposure--after this deadline passes--would probably amount to over 70% of what tobacco companies already achieved in 1999.
Siegel told Reuters Health that such an outcome would render the law almost meaningless--even before considering other modes of exposure which ``big tobacco'' uses such as sports magazines, TV shows about racing, and on-site racing event promotions. However, he strongly suggested that currently existing legislation could be effective in limiting this type of round-about advertising--if political will demands stricter enforcement.
``There is already a ban on TV advertising,'' he said. ''There's nothing new that's needed. There is a law that's in place and the tobacco companies have agreed to abide by that law, but the problem is that the law is not being enforced. So the Department of Justice should enforce the law, because I don't see any reason why motor sports should be exempted when millions of people are watching these events on TV.''
He added, ``If policy makers are serious about reducing tobacco use, then they should eliminate the sponsorship of motor sports event by tobacco users.''