OP ED: TOBACCO SPONSORSHIP, A HOT TOPIC

31 May 2019

By: Sport Industry Group

The current prevalence of betting sponsorship is much discussed, but tobacco sponsorship in Formula One is becoming a hot topic once again.  On ‘World No Tobacco Day’ Simon Cleverly, Group Head of Corporate Affairs of British American Tobacco shares his views.


What better time to address our sponsorship in Formula One than on World No Tobacco Day. Since we announced our partnership with McLaren, there has been much debate as to whether tobacco companies have a place in the sport.  For us the rationale is simple.

Since we were last involved with Formula One in 2006 our business has changed dramatically. As a company we are now focused on the development and sale of a whole range of products which we are confident have the potential to be significantly less risky than traditional cigarettes. Given the role these products could play in improving the lives of millions of smokers it is counter intuitive to suggest that we should not be trying to find the most effective ways of driving consumer awareness of them.  Our partnership with McLaren is a prime example of how we’re trying to do this.

There is now a growing global consensus on the role that these smokeless products – like e-cigarettes, tobacco heating products and oral tobacco and nicotine products – can play in encouraging people to stop using cigarettes.  For example, in the UK, Public Health England has found that vaping poses a fraction of the risk of smoking, and that e-cigarettes are estimated to be at least 95% less harmful than smoking.  It is this supportive environment in the UK which has seen 1.7m smokers quit using e-cigarettes. And so, we are surprised that there are questions around our involvement in Formula One – given that our involvement is focused solely on driving awareness of these new category products.  If World No Tobacco Day aims to reduce cigarette use, then surely we should be encouraged to promote our products that are aligned with this?  It is only by making smokers aware of these products that they will be able to choose to use them as alternatives to cigarettes and ultimately, be able to play a role in reducing the number of cigarette smokers worldwide.

And why have we chosen McLaren and Formula One to help us accelerate this ambition?  It’s simple.  Formula One offers a huge global platform for us to get our message across. Geographically it targets many of our key markets where we currently offer, or see potential for, our new category products – from Asia and the Americas to key markets across Europe. As for why McLaren - at BAT today,  our range of new category products rely on us having access to cutting edge technology, and more than any other Formula 1 team McLaren shares our passion for technology, innovation and design, as well as a clear desire to deliver significant and meaningful change through their business.  So we’re looking forward to working with the technology experts at McLaren Applied Technologies, sharing knowledge and expertise, to ensure we provide our consumers with even better products.

We acknowledge that this partnership is generating debate but we are proud of our relationship with McLaren and stand by it. Criticism will come, predominantly based on a lack of understanding of our agenda to transform our industry and company with our range of smokeless products, and in particular the role they can play in providing smokers with genuine alternatives to cigarettes. However, we welcome the opportunity to drive this debate with government, media, public health and the industry. We want to continue to spread the word of our new categories and see this partnership with McLaren as a great way of getting our message out there and informing people of alternatives to traditional tobacco products.