Tobacco usage in sport

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Tobacco usage in sport is a well documented and publicised occurrence. Tobacco advertising has connected itself to sports both for the connotations of health that sports provide, as well as the marketing potential of famous athletes. Additionally, tobacco has played a role in the sport of baseball specifically and has affected both the rules affecting players and fan alike. Agencies such as the CDC have used sports as platforms for tobacco prevention programs, specifically targeted at younger people.


Back of an old baseball card

For many years, tobacco companies have played a monumental role in advertising within the sports industry. Major tobacco companies have employed the strategies of athletic endorsements, sponsorships of major athletic events, and creating powerful associations of tobacco and active lifestyles in order to advertise their products. The connection between sports and tobacco can be traced back to the origins of professional sports.[1] Shortly after the National Baseball League's inception in 1876, trading cards with player's images emerged within cigarette packages.[2] One of the oldest brands of chewing tobacco, Bull Durham, advertised on outfield fences in baseball parks in the United States South.[2] Despite this long-standing history, there have been many recent developments and changes in tobacco's relation to athletics. Currently, trends have shifted as athletes today are more likely to endorse tobacco prevention efforts as opposed to tobacco products.


From the 1920s to 1940s baseball furthered its relation with tobacco. Every major league team had a cigarette sponsor and baseball's greatest athletes such as Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, and Ted Williams, all appeared in cigarette advertisements.[2] Lou Gehrig endorsed R. J. ReynoldsCamels, saying he could smoke as many as he pleased and creating the slogan that Camels “don’t get your wind.”[3]

As tensions mounted in the 1950s, with smoking's correlation to lung cancer, the Commissioner of Baseball prohibited players from wearing their uniforms in cigarette advertisements. While baseball cracked down on endorsements, the National Football League not only permitted players to appear in tobacco advertisements but also signed Philip MorrisMarlboro as its major television sponsor.[2] Of these players, one of the most prominent was Frank Gifford. Gifford played for the New York Giants in the 1950s and 1960s and later became a famous sportscaster. In his prime, Gifford endorsed a wide range of products, including The American Tobacco Company's Lucky Strike cigarettes.[4]

In 1964, the tobacco industry began to anticipate increased federal regulation and voluntarily adopted the Cigarette Advertising Code, stating it would not “depict as a smoker any person well known as being, or having been, an athlete…[or] any person participating in, or obviously having just participated in, physical activity requiring stamina or athletic conditioning beyond that of normal recreation”. Under this code, athletes and celebrities were no longer allowed to give testimonials, but nonetheless the industry blatantly disregarded its own guidelines.[2]

In October 2009, Baisha, China’s largest cigarette company, signed Liu Xiang, an Olympic gold medalist hurdler, to endorse its cigarettes in both print advertisements and televised commercials.[2]


Traditionally, cigarette companies have had a strong relationship with NASCAR events. After tobacco companies were forced to pull out of advertising in NASCAR, Nicorette has entered the NASCAR arena and signed a three-year contract as part of an extension by GlaxoSmithKline, then the owner of Goody's Headache Powders, a long-time NASCAR sponsor.[5] NASCAR's deal with Nicorette was only for one year. Winston stepped down after 33 years as title sponsor of NASCAR's championship series and was replaced by Nextel.[5] Nicorette sees a great market as NASCAR fans are 28% more likely to smoke than other adults. The firm also reported that they smoke 18% more cigarettes than other adults.[5] Since Nicorette has signed on as a sponsor, there has been a substantial decrease in the amount of NASCAR employees who smoke. Nicorette began its quit smoking program in 2004, providing NASCAR members with training sessions and one-on-one counseling. Additionally, Nicorette has counseled about 250,000 race fans on how to quit smoking since 2005.[6]

Cigarette companies have explored the sponsorship of rodeo since the early 1970s. From 1986 to 2009 the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association was sponsored by the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company as well as the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA) since 1974.[7] The association severed its ties with the tobacco industry in 2009, allowing rodeo culture to return to its status before tobacco's involvement in 1986. “Cowboy Ted” Hallisey, a prominent print and broadcast journalist for rodeo events stated “Without big tobacco, rodeos will move into mainstream sports because they will be more comfortable for children and families to attend”.[8]

Advertising strategies[edit]

In the early 1900s the tobacco industry sought to pair smoking with active and healthy lifestyles. Through its advertisements, the tobacco industry created associations between smoking and recreational and athletic activities like tennis, golf, swimming, football, track and field, skiing, and ice skating. These activities were often depicted in cigarette advertising as activities demanding a cigarette for enhanced performance and even good health. American Tobacco's Lucky Strikes ran a successful advertising campaign that urged men and women “To keep a slender figure, reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet.” Brandt, Allan (2007). The Cigarette Century. Basic Books. p. 78. ISBN 978-0-465-07047-3. Smokeless tobacco in baseball urged adolescents to buy their product by using slogans such as "May cause the urge to act like a man."[9]

Advertising and Sponsorship in Australia[edit]

One of the first countries to ever legislate the end of tobacco advertising and sponsorship at sporting events was Australia.[10]

Quit Victoria in Australia, stated that the three major sponsors for sport in 1980 were the largest tobacco companies.[11] In 1989, the tobacco industry put a whopping 34 million dollars into cricket and rugby league. Although advertisement of tobacco products on television had been banned in 1976, on ground advertising and naming rights to oppositions and events was tactically used by tobacco companies; for example, the Benson and Hedges logo would appear for approximately 90 minutes in a day’s play of test cricket.[10] The tobacco advertising prohibition act 1992, prohibited nearly all of tobaccos advertising and sponsorships in sporting events. However, under section 18 of the Act, there was power to allow an exception to the general ban on tobacco advertising in Australia for sporting events of international significance.[12] In 2000, there was an amendment to remove this act and Australian sport became totally tobacco sponsorship and advertisement free in October 2006.[10]

Smokeless tobacco[edit]

Chewing tobacco

Smokeless tobacco: chewing tobacco, spit tobacco, dry snuff, snus, or ‘tabac à chiquer’ in France, is very common in some sports.[13] There is little data on the number of athletes that use smokeless tobacco, but a study showed that approximately 45 percent of major league baseball players have been reported to use smokeless tobacco.[14] Athletes apparently used smokeless tobacco to enhance their performance because nicotine improved certain aspects of physiology.[13] However, it has been found that smokeless tobacco can cause many harmful health effects such as cancer, mouth and tooth problems, heart disease and high blood pressure.[15]

Baseball and tobacco[edit]

Between 1920 until 1940, when baseball was America's most popular sport, every team had a tobacco sponsor.[2] It is common perception that many baseball players use tobacco. According to the MLB however this practice is changing and declining.[16] One source states that a reason chewing tobacco usage increased among baseball players was the misconception that it improved concentration, overall performance and was less harmful than smoking a cigarette. Contrary to this, chewing tobacco does not have an established connection to the performance of baseball players.[17] As more information about the dangers of chewing tobacco has come to light it has become stigmatized within baseball itself with players, staff and managers often having to "sneak" off to partake. These individuals understand that children will easily copy their actions and try to hide them now, as they are negative role models for youth. Most players have made attempts to quit, but the majority struggle in breaking their addiction.[18] Lenny Dykstra, the former Philadelphia Phillies center-fielder, started dipping at a young age, unaware of how difficult quitting would be. He tells young children, "They call me "Nails" because they say I'm as tough as nails. But I'm not tough enough to beat the spit-tobacco habit. Copy my hustle, copy my determination. But don't copy my spit-tobacco habit."[18] In addition Major League Baseball has taken actions to lower tobacco usage amongst its players. This includes a complete ban on tobacco with fines for players and their managers if it is discovered. In the major leagues tobacco companies are no longer allowed to leave free products in stadium clubhouses for the players, with a ban effective December 5, 2016, in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that prohibits players entering MLB for the first time from using tobacco. (Players who had experience in MLB prior to the day are grandfathered.) [16] Baseball stadiums have stricter tobacco policies for patrons as well though the level of strictness varies per stadium.[19]

A breakdown of Major League Baseball teams by stadium smoking policies.[19]
Team No smoking allowed (no re-entry) Re-entry allowed for Smoking Designated smoking inside Designated smoking within grounds
Arizona Diamondbacks X
Atlanta Braves X
Baltimore Orioles X
Boston Red Sox X
Chicago Cubs x
Chicago White Sox X
Cincinnati Reds X
Cleveland Indians X
Colorado Rockies X
Detroit Tigers X
Houston Astros X
Kansas City Royals X
Los Angeles Angels X
Los Angeles Dodgers X
Miami Marlins X
Milwaukee Brewers X
Minnesota Twins X
New York Mets X
New York Yankees X
Oakland Athletics X
Philadelphia Phillies X
Pittsburgh Pirates X
St. Louis Cardinals X
San Diego Padres X
San Francisco Giants X
Seattle Mariners X
Tampa Bay Rays X
Texas Rangers X
Toronto Blue Jays X
Washington Nationals X

Tobacco prevention and sports[edit]

The majority of tobacco smokers start smoking before they graduate high school. The CDC has identified youth sports as an area where tobacco education and prevention will help limit the number of first time smokers and has begun a Tobacco Free Sports Movement to encourage non smoking practices in athletics.[20] The CDC has paired with many large organizations to achieve this goal. These include public health agencies such as the National Cancer Institute, and sport regulatory bodies such as FIFA and the International Olympic Committee to further the efforts of tobacco elimination in sports.[20] The 2008 Beijing Olympics banned not only tobacco usage, but advertising, sponsorship, promotion and sale of tobacco products in Olympic venues.[21] The last Olympics with a tobacco company as a sponsor were in 1984, and control has gotten stricter since then (as can be seen from the Beijing regulations).[22] On a smaller scale there are regional efforts to create tobacco free sports initiatives such as the Tobacco-Free Athletes of Maine. This organization seeks to have coaches educate their young athletes about the effects of tobacco.[23]

Many athletes have become spokespersons for anti-tobacco and tobacco prevention efforts. Early in the 20th century Hall of Fame baseball player Honus Wagner would not allow a cigarette company to use his picture on a tobacco trading card.[22] Since then famous athletes like skateboarder Tony Hawk[20] and baseball player Sammy Sosa have supported tobacco prevention.[17] Events such as the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout also make use of athletes to support their anti-tobacco efforts. In 2000, the American Cancer Society had Alonzo Mourning of the Miami Heat (with other athletes) speak to children about the dangers of smoking.[24]

Recently in the 2010 Winter Olympics, the Canada women's national ice hockey team celebrated their gold medal victory on the ice with both cigars and tobacco. As the Vancouver Olympics were a tobacco free event, the International Olympic Committee decided to look into the celebration since it was a breach of anti-tobacco rules.[25]

List of athletes who have supported tobacco prevention in sport[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Favero Family Dental | Smokeless Tobacco and Baseball". Retrieved 2016-05-15.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Tobacco in sport: an endless addiction? Tob Control 2005;14:1-2
  3. ^ Brandt, Allan (2007). The Cigarette Century. Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-07047-3.
  4. ^ "tobacco advertising 1960s". The Pop History Dig. Retrieved 2010-07-10.
  5. ^ a b c Horovitz, Bruce (2005-01-27). "Nicorette, NASCAR sign sponsorship deal". Usatoday.Com. Retrieved 2010-07-10.
  6. ^ [1][dead link]
  7. ^ Ling, Pamela M.; Haber, Lawrence A.; Wedl, Stefani (2010). "Branding the Rodeo: A Case Study of Tobacco Sports Sponsorship". American Journal of Public Health. 100 (1): 32–41. doi:10.2105/ajph.2008.144097. PMC 2791245. PMID 19910357.
  8. ^ "Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Ends Tobacco Sponsorship | Tobacco Facts". Tobacco Facts. 2009-12-02. Archived from the original on 2010-06-21. Retrieved 2010-07-10.
  9. ^ "Knock Tobacco Out of the Park". Archived from the original on 2016-05-09. Retrieved 2016-05-13.
  10. ^ a b c "Clearinghouse for Sport". Tobacco Sponsorship and Advertising in Sport.
  11. ^ "15.5 Sponsorship". Retrieved 2016-05-12.
  12. ^ Health. "Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act 1992". Retrieved 2016-05-12.
  13. ^ a b Chagué, Frédéric; Guenancia, Charles; Gudjoncik, Aurélie; Moreau, Daniel; Cottin, Yves; Zeller, Marianne (2015). "Smokeless tobacco, sport and the heart". Archives of Cardiovascular Diseases. 108 (1): 75–83. doi:10.1016/j.acvd.2014.10.003. PMID 25497687.
  14. ^ Chiamulera, Cristiano; Leone, Roberto; Fumagalli, Guido (2007-12-01). "Smokeless tobacco use in sports: 'legal doping'?". Addiction. 102 (12): 1847–1848. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2007.01993.x. ISSN 1360-0443. PMID 18031421.
  15. ^ "Health Risks of Smokeless Tobacco". Retrieved 2016-05-13.
  16. ^ a b Mychael Urban / (2008-06-30). "Tobacco use in baseball on the decline | News". Retrieved 2010-07-10.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  17. ^ a b "Chewing Tobacco - Sports". Retrieved 2010-07-10.
  18. ^ a b "Smokeless Tobacco". Archived from the original on 2010-06-28. Retrieved 2010-07-10.
  19. ^ a b Smoking Policies at Major League Baseball Stadiums, May 24, 2010
  20. ^ a b c d "Smoking and Tobacco Use :: Youth Tobacco Prevention :: Tobacco-Free Sports Initiatives :: Office on Smoking and Health (OSH) :: CDC". Archived from the original on 2010-04-09. Retrieved 2010-07-10.
  21. ^ "WHO China-Tobacco-free Olympics". 2010-05-27. Archived from the original on 2010-07-13. Retrieved 2010-07-10.
  22. ^ a b c Tobacco in sport: an endless addiction? Tob Control 2005;14:1-2
  23. ^ "Tobacco-Free Athletes - Tobacco Prevention for Youth in Sports & Community Programs - Partnership For A Tobacco-Free Maine". Archived from the original on 2010-06-17. Retrieved 2010-07-10.
  24. ^ a b c d e [2] Archived October 25, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  25. ^ wire reports (2010-02-26). "IOC to look into drinking celebrations on ice by women's hockey team - Olympics". Retrieved 2010-07-10.

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