Formula 1 must stop its addiction to tobacco money

When Formula 1 arrives in Austin for the US Grand Prix this weekend, the Circuit of the Americas track won’t be the only bumpy issue. There is a tobacco sponsorship controversy that includes an electronic cigarette product popular among young Americans, giving parents more worries than their children going “gas freak”.

In October 2018, during a Formula 1 race in Japan, a mysterious new logo appeared on Ferrari team cars: “MISSION WINNOW”, the words stacked and tilted to suggest a fast arrow. Reading the tour, it became clear that Mission Winnow is a vehicle to continue Philip Morris’ long and lucrative relationship with one of the world’s most popular sports, and is part of a smokescreen to help hijack the attention of all the cigarettes he sells. Philip Morris International manufactures more than 600 billion cigarettes worldwide each year.

The company no longer sticks Marlboro labels on Ferrari cars, but “Mission Winnow” is a decent substitute, with its Ms and Ws evoking the immediately recognizable chevron of the world’s most valuable cigarette brand. The Ferrari car design for 2021 was changed “at the last minute” to include a new neon green Mission Winnow logo which generated a lot of media buzz, which for Philip Morris International is essentially “Mission accomplished”. While regulations in each country have forced Ferrari to temporarily remove this logo from certain races, the partnership, Ferrari executives stressed, remains ongoing.

Philip Morris International is not alone. Rival British American Tobacco unveiled its ‘A Better Tomorrow’ marketing campaign in 2019, joining one of the world’s most watched sports to push its electronics. Electronic cigarette and nicotine sachet brands are now openly advertised on McLaren team cars and apparel, its social media, team events and in a video game competition for McLaren fans. Any child watching Formula 1 racing or BAT-McLaren content is exposed to this advertisement. One of their brands, Vuse, is already the second most popular e-cigarette product among middle and high school students, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There is a clear attraction to young people in a sport associated with speed, technology and glamor and Formula 1 is actively recruiting young fans. A report by the tobacco industry watchdog STOP examines how cigarette makers and the teams they sponsor are capitalizing on this trend, with BAT and McLaren in particular operating eSports and youth-friendly channels like TikTok, YouTube and Netflix, with its popular “Drive to Survive show.” And it works: According to an analysis conducted by Formula Money on behalf of STOP, McLaren has the second youngest social media fan base of any Formula 1 team and a younger fan base than the sport itself. same.

Vuse was announced on McLaren cars at the Bahrain and Monaco races earlier this year, and VELO, a brand of nicotine sachets, was announced at other races. Both brands have featured heavily in Team McLaren content throughout the season, reaching the United States, where parents, youth groups and regulators are working to stem the vaping epidemic at home. young people, and countries like Kenya, where parent groups and health advocates fear children will become addicted to BAT’s nicotine packets. And that’s the goal: to drag tobacco brands past regulators, circumvent national regulations, and put themselves in front of consumers.

Tobacco kills up to half of its consumers, according to the World Health Organization, and policies designed to reduce tobacco consumption are eroding the industry’s global customer base. Cigarette manufacturers need to recruit new customers for their products, and data suggests that most lifelong customers get addicted at a young age. Suddenly, Formula 1’s goal of expanding its global audience and attracting a younger demographic takes on a more ominous tone as Big Tobacco is still involved.

In 2001, Formula 1’s governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, decided to follow the lead of other world sports and pledged to end all sponsorship and advertising of tobacco from by 2006, but this “ban” has become a “recommendation”, never fully implemented. . The tobacco money has never gone away, setting the stage for the recent resurgence.

Calls have been made for the FIA ​​to honor its public commitments to be more socially responsible and finally end the sponsorship of tobacco companies. Yet, according to an analysis conducted on behalf of STOP, Philip Morris and BAT combined are spending around $ 105 million sponsoring Formula 1 in 2021. The sport is estimated to have grossed more than $ 4.5 billion for manufacturers. of tobacco to date.

Formula 1 gives Big Tobacco access to platforms and marketing sites. Young fans are now exposed to tobacco messages due to the sport’s failure to completely stop tobacco sponsorship 15 years ago.

Ultimately, Formula 1 must end its addiction to tobacco money and put the health and well-being of current and future fans first.

Chamberlain is the editor of Tobacco Tactics and a partner of STOP, a global tobacco industry watchdog.

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