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Tobacco Industry (Sports Sponsorship)

Volume 44: debated on Thursday 30 June 1983

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now Adjourn.— [Mr. Thompson.]

10.16 pm

There could be few better times than today to discuss this matter as we approach the climax of the lawn tennis championships at Wimbledon. On Tuesday this week, the 1982 Wimbledon ladies' champion, Martina Navratilova, recognised that she had been party to a flagrant breach of the Government's agreement with the tobacco industry on sponsorship of sports events and, thankfully, she abandoned the dress that had made her look like a dancing cigarette packet.

At this time last year, Kim, the new cancer drug for women, made its Wimbledon debut. Every time that Navratilova appeared, millions of television viewers saw her sporting yellow, brown, orange and red wavy stip stripes on a white background, and the Kim logo. That was the sort of abuse of the voluntary agreement that prompted a letter from a lady to the chairman of British American Tobacco, of which I understand the Minister has a copy, which stated:
"Having a mother who died at 59 from lung cancer and a father who is awaiting surgery for removal of a cancerous lung it is appalling that I cannot watch the Ladies' Wimbledon Final without having a cigarette carton moving around the tennis court. Such a link between sport and cigarettes is obscene."
The chairman of British American Tobacco tried to say that it was pure coincidence, but after the Minister's intervention the company apologised and
"gave an assurance of their total commitment to both the spirit and the letter of the voluntary agreement."
However, that assurance was shown to be worthless when the human cigarette carton returned this year. She disappeared only after a further storm of protest from the British Medical Association and others, including my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt), who spoke about this in the House on Monday. I hope that the Minister will assure us this evening that he will be in touch with British American Tobacco to ensure that such a breach does not recur.

Each of those breaches of the agreement shows what some hon. Members and others have said for some time —that the agreement is so weak and so open to abuse as to be worthless. Wimbledon is only the current example of how the agreement has been broken, but there are many more instances. One of the most scandalous aspects of the sports promotion by tobacco companies is that much of their effort is aimed at hooking the young on the smoking habit.

One smoker in every three is thought to start before the age of 13, and it was for that reason that doctors welcomed the clause in the voluntary agreement that stipulated that tobacco companies should not sponsor sporting activities in which the majority of the participants were under 18.

Yet in spite of that, I can produce detailed photographic evidence that, despite repeated complaints and the empty assurances of the Tobacco Advisory Council, Carreras Rothman was again this year in flagrant breach of the agreement during its Peter Stuyvesant snow fun week at Glenshee.

I know that in previous years Action on Smoking and Health has made representations to the Department of Health about that event, complaining about the heavy level of cigarette promotion — involving banners, posters, ashtrays, book matches, free cigarettes in the Glenshee canteen, and young people in Peter Stuyvesant colours active on the ski slopes—all in an event clearly billed as "skiing and fun for all the family", in which most of the competitions are open to children as well as adults.

Following the new voluntary agreement on sponsorship, the brochure wording and layout was changed. Examination of the brochures shows that the changes made between 1982 and 1983 were minimal. Children's events this year were billed separately for a special children's day — though children could still take part in events on other days.

The photographic evidence collected by ASH observers shows the extent of cigarette promotion during the whole week—and the extensive advertising promotion was not removed on children's day. I hope that the Minister will give the House an assurance that he will take up that breach with the company to stop such flagrant breaches again next year.

An even more recent example involves Silk Cut cigarettes, which were advertised on the track side at the Bislett athletics meeting in Oslo on 28 June, posing as Silk Cut Master Class Holidays. The manufacturers knew that because Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett were competing in Norway, the event would be shown on British television. Thankfully, due to a protest following reports from Britain, the case was investigated by a law professor in Norway. He concluded that the advertisements were in conflict with the Norwegian Tobacco Act. Following that, the National Council on Smoking and Health informed the Ministry of Health, which supported the professor's view that the advertisements were illegal. The message will be conveyed to the organisers of the games.

In today's edition of the Norwegian daily newspaper Dagbladet, there is already a report of the incident. The newspaper quotes the chairman of the Bislett alliance as saying:
"The organisers did not know that Silk Cut also represented a cigarette brand. I can however promise that the Silk Cut advertisement will be removed before our next athletics meeting on 9th July".
The Chairman of the National Council on Smoking and Health said:
"We at the National Council on Smoking and Health do not blame the organisers because this brand is not marketed in Norway and they were unaware that Silk Cut was a cigarette. However, we do not want any export of advertisements for Silk Cut or any other cigarette brand. We want a total cut of advertisements of these deadly products."
The case is a good example of how successfully a total ban on tobacco promotion works due to alert monitoring and a Government who, unlike our own, are willing to enforce a public health measure. It is an example of how Silk Cut tried to get round the regulations.

The list of tobacco-sponsored sporting events is almost endless, such as Embassy snooker, Marlboro motor racing and Embassy darts. Sixty-six sports are now sponsored by tobacco companies, from bob-sleighing to dog trials and from shove-halfpenny to hang gliding. There were 265 hours of television coverage of cigarette-sponsored sport last year—all, of course, designed to circumvent the ban on tobacco advertising on television.

The companies, of course, value the extra dimension of the link between the fatally dangerous habit of cigarette smoking and healthy sporting activity. One Marlboro executive said:
"We are the number one brand in the world. What we wanted was to promote a particular image of adventure, of courage, of virility"—
an image, of course, quite different from the coughing, wheezing, cancer-ridden reality.

The reasons why so many organisations connected with health want stronger action on cigarette advertising is not because they are killjoys or have an obsessive dislike of smokers — quite the reverse. Smoking is by far the largest preventable cause of illness, disability and death in the United Kingdom. It accounts for more than four times as many premature deaths each year as road accidents, alcohol, fires, murder, suicide, poisoning and every other cause of accidental death all put together, and for more deaths than environmental pollution, which is also something which the Government must do something about. On average, those who die from smoking lose 10 to 15 years of life compared with their expectancy if they had been non-smokers.

That is why organisations including the Royal College of Physicians, the British Medical Association, the Health Education Council and many others have called for a ban on the promotion of all tobacco goods. They object to tobacco promotion and in particular to sports sponsorship by tobacco companies, first, for ethical reasons; secondly, because it helps to promote an image of smoking that is contrary to the realities of the habit; thirdly, because it undermines the effectiveness of serious health messages; fourthly and particularly, because of the unfortunate and misleading link created between smoking and physical fitness, which is particularly regrettable in its effect on young people.

It is not easy for us to get current smokers to kick the habit, but we have a special responsibility to prevent young people from starting smoking. The methods used by the tobacco companies to hook the young are well illustrated in a letter that I received from Dr. Frank Ledwith, research fellow in the department of community medicine at Edinburgh university:
"In the light of the surveys reported last week that children watch so much TV, often for longer than they spend in school, I am concerned about sponsored sport on TV. I did a survey in January this year, round about the time of the very exciting Embassy Darts World Championship, of 11-year-olds in the Lothian Region. I asked the 102 children to write down all the tobacco brands they could remember. The results are quite startling. The number of times brands were mentioned (which are virtually straight percentages) were: Embassy Regal 78, Benson & Hedges 53,"—
this is like the sports results—
"John Player 49. The next most frequent was Marlboro 16 and no other brand got as many as 10 mentions. Thus the three most widely publicised brands on TV sports sponsorship got though most to the children, out of all proportion to the amounts spent on advertising generally.
Of course knowledge is not necessarily linked to actual smoking. However, a large scale survey in Australia asked teenagers which brands they smoked. There were four popular brands, accounting for some 80 per cent. of consumption, which were the four most commonly linked with TV sports sponsorship. They were not the most popular brands among adults.
I am a psychologist, so am concerned at how advertising works. Simple conditions of emotional responses are produced by repeatedly associating something which arouses emotion with something initially neutral like a brand name or symbol. One of the most widely quoted experiments in psychology was done by James Watson who took a child called Albert who was not afraid of furry objects and conditioned fear of furry things in him by giving him a furry object a few times and then frightening him with a loud noise. Afterwards the child was terrified of all furry animals. All emotional conditioning whether of pleasant or unpleasant emotions seems to work in the same way. Thus TV sports advertising may very well condition children emotionally since the commentators mention the brand name which is also carefully arranged to be in picture whilst the excitement of the sport is being portrayed. Thus children may be conditioned to associate the cigarette brands with excitement and sporting prowess".
That is why they use certain brands.

I call on the Minister at the very least to give a pledge to tighten up his agreement with the tobacco companies to ensure that the agreement is not flouted—not only in the three examples that I have quoted, but in all cases—as it has been over the past year.

I make no pretence about the fact that I should prefer to see legislation to stop tobacco sponsorship of sporting events and, as the presidents of the eight royal colleges suggested and as the medical profession wants, the ending of all promotion of tobacco products. That need not mean a halt to sports sponsorship. If we put an extra 1p on tobacco duty, we could raise £50 million-10 times the money given by tobacco companies in sports sponsorship — and the Government could use the money for sponsorship.

My plea is not a militant or outrageous demand. It was made to the Minister in the letter from the presidents of the eight royal medical colleges and other leading doctors on 14 December 1981, which, I regret to say, the Minister has ignored. I conclude with a quotation from the British Medical Journal. I want to leave it ringing in the Minister's ears and not engraved on his tombstone:
"When the history of medicine in the twentieth century comes to be written, the members of the Government who allowed such an agreement will stand indicted as the guilty men of public health."
I hope that the Minister will show us that he does not want to be one of those guilty men.

10.31 pm

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) for raising an important subject which causes much anxiety in this country, and I do not intend to cross swords with him over the balance of sport shown on television, the impact and importance of sport, or the amount that sport owes to sponsoring companies that make a wide range of products. He will accept that many of our constituents benefit from sport and it is not possible in a brief debate to get into a detailed argument of how sports sponsorship was obtained.

I welcome the opportunity to comment on the voluntary agreement between the Government and the Tobacco Advisory Council, on behalf of the tobacco manufacturers in the United Kingdom and the Imported Tobacco Products Advisory Council.

The hon. Gentleman raised a number of topics and, with apologies to him, I wish to give some of the background for those who will read his words in Hansard and will want to see a balanced argument presented. I undertake to respond fully to all the points made by the hon. Gentleman, even if I cannot do so tonight.

The hon. Gentleman has expressed anxiety about what he believes to be abuses of the voluntary agreement and their effects on younger sports followers. He referred to a wide variety of sports, especially snooker, darts and motor racing, and he mentioned particularly the Peter Stuyvesant snow fun week in Glenshee in Scotland.

In renegotiating the agreement on sponsorship in sport, the tobacco companies reaffirmed their policy of conducting their businesses in a reasonable manner and, in particular, of exercising special care to ensure that their financial support of sport did not attach to activities in which the majority of participants are under the age of 18.

As commercial enterprises, requiring public awareness of their financial involvement in the sponsorship of sporting events, the companies agreed to accept specific controls on the level of that involvement, particularly when events are shown on television. They also agreed to use their best endeavours to keep expenditure on media advertising and promotion for sponsored activities within a reasonable proportion of their total expenditure on sports sponsorship. I believe that the companies have adhered to that part of the voluntary agreement.

The event at Glenshee caused some concern in 1982 when the Scottish committee for Action on Smoking and Health made representations to the Tobacco Advisory Council and, latterly, to me. This is the first complaint I have received about the 1983 event. I do not say that complaints did not exist, but this was the first time that one was brought to my attention. In 1982, I noted that following the complaint made then, the company in question assured the Scottish branch of ASH that it would—
"Continue to act in accordance with voluntary Agreements between the Industry and HMG."
I can tell the House that I am satisfied that the company has met this assurance.

At this point, as promised, let me give the history of this voluntary agreement.

I do not understand how the Minister can say that when I have evidence here — picture after picture taken by ASH observers on a day that was reserved for children—showing Peter Stuyvesant advertisements again and again. That is a clear breach of the spirit and letter of the agreement. How can the Minister say that there has not been a breach when I have the evidence here?

It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman did not let me see the information that he has. The first information that I heard—or criticisms or complaints—has come from the hon. Gentleman is this debate.

The first voluntary agreement was negotiated in 1977. I understand that the background to this agreement was the increasing pressure then being exerted for legal controls on tobacco advertising and promotion. I shall come back to some of the matters that the hon. Gentleman raised in a moment.

Some countries had introduced a complete ban on tobacco advertising. The United Kingdom response to the pressure for controls was a voluntary agreement. In March 1977, a three year agreement was concluded between the then Government and the tobacco interests covering a range of measures intended to discourage smoking. These measures included tar groups, labelling, taxation, non-smoking areas, cinema advertising, and so on.

Tobacco advertisements had already been banned on television, and the tobacco interests had then turned to sport as a means of promoting their products. Sports events had been retitled to include sponsors' names. Advertising hoardings were placed around events at points likely to be caught by TV cameras. The resultant association in the public mind of sporting excellence, exemplifying youth and healthy living with smoking, was felt by many to be offensive. The 1977 voluntary agreement covering specifically the sponsorship of sport was thus an attempt to provide some regulation in this area.

The agreement provided a quantitative control on the amount of money a tobacco interest could spend. It prevented the total amount of money spent by any tobacco company on sports sponsorship from rising, in real terms, above the level of that company's spending in 1976. There were also qualitative restraints on what tobacco companies could spend money on, through the provisions of the general agreement I have already mentioned and by a code of practice. The agreement on sports sponsorship thus sought to provide a voluntary control which, first, identified those sports that could be sponsored, with a special proviso that tobacco companies must consult the Government before extending their sponsorship arrangements into new sports; and which, second, restricted the size and number of hoardings used for advertising at sporting events, as well as the display of sponsors' names on the shirts, cars, and so on, of competitors and participants.

That, in brief, was the voluntary agreement inherited by my predecessor as Minister with responsibility for Sport in the incoming Conservative Government in May 1979. At that time, there had already been clear breaches of the agreement—largely based on differing interpretations of some ambiguous wording—and we soon came to the view that the sports sponsorship voluntary agreement should be renegotiated on its expiry in 1980, and not simply renewed. I must say that at that time my ministerial colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Security were also in the process of renegotiating the general voluntary agreement on smoking.

The sports sponsorship agreement must relate to this general voluntary agreement on smoking. The two voluntary agreements must be consistent — a point recognised by both the Government and the tobacco interests. Therefore, simply to put straight any likely misunderstanding, my predecessor extended, at the beginning of 1981, the existing voluntary agreement on sports sponsorship for a further year to allow my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to conclude the main content of his negotiations on the general voluntary agreement. This is an important point, as I do not wish to leave the House with the misunderstanding that we had no voluntary agreement during 1981.

What, then, about that renegotiated agreement? We thus began some protracted negotiations in which I became involved on moving to the Department of the Environment in September 1981. Our aim was to ensure that sport continued to enjoy the sponsorship of tobacco companies, which had been so important to some particular sports, while preventing excessive advertising. That aim was ultimately achieved in a new voluntary agreement which secured tighter controls than its predecessor.

First, it required that the existing expenditure ceiling —the actual expenditure in 1976 adjusted for inflation —be maintained. The tobacco interests were keen to see a revision of this particular formula, but the Government were not prepared to accede.

Secondly, the new agreement stipulated that Government health warnings, similar to those appearing on cigarette packs, should appear on press and poster advertising for sponsored sporting activities and on static promotional signs at those events.

Thirdly, under the new voluntary agreement companies would continue to sponsor non-televised, minor and amateur activities.

Fourthly, companies would use their best endeavours to keep expenditure on media advertising and promotional activities within a reasonable proportion of total sports sponsorship expenditure. Those were the key features of the new agreement, which hon. Members should know is scheduled to remain in force until at least 31 December 1985.

When I announcced this important development to the House, on 3 March 1982, I acknowledged that some minor practical details had to be finalised. Those details amounted to the inclusion, for the first time, of the imported tobacco products advisory council. This council became party to my agreement — a most important additional feature which ensured that foreign brands, promoted in this country, could no longer escape our voluntary agreement. That is an important step.

That is, briefly, the background of this Government's voluntary agreement on sports sponsorship with the tobacco interests. I hope that helps to put into perspective the complaint that the hon. Gentleman has raised about the sponsorship of the Glenshee snow fun week. As I said earlier, this is the first suggestion of a complaint that I have received about this particular event which was held last March. If the hon. Gentleman has further evidence that suggests that the sponsoring company breached the voluntary agreement or, indeed, if any hon. Member feels that he has such evidence of a breach for any sporting event, I urge him to write to me forthwith.

I understand that the Glenshee snow week attracted low profile sponsorship from the tobacco company involved. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman may differ from me about the interpretation of the words "low profile", but, allowing for the fact that it was the main sponsor, I understand that it restricted all promotional events to evening functions on licensed premises, thus automatically restricting admission to those over 18 years of age. Activity during the day involved press and poster advertising strictly in accord with the voluntary agreement. I therefore assume from this that no breach occurred of the agreement that this Government negotiated so thoroughly, and with the full co-operation of the tobacco interests.

I have always insisted, and will continue to do so, that careful and immediate checks are made should a suspected breach occur. It is also a requirement, as I have said, of the voluntary agreement that I am notified by the tobacco interests of all the sporting events that they intend to sponsor in advance. I am happy to confirm that, so far, that operates successfully.

May I continue? I have only a few minutes left.

There are also sporting events that, although not directly sponsored by the tobacco interests, do see them represented in one form or another. Those too are closely monitored.

Wimbledon is an event which comes to mind and upon which the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley touched. It is uppermost in everybody's mind at present. Some hon. Members are concerned about what may apear to be advertising of a particular cigarette brand. In the 1982 Wimbledon championships I received a quite justifiable complaint that a breach had occurred. I immediately, as is my duty to this House, asked my officials to investigate this alleged breach with the company concerned. That company immediately recognised that a breach had occurred and instigated its own inquiries. For this year's tournament the company has ensured that no breach of the voluntary agreement should occur. I am satisfied that the agreements that it has undertaken have been successful. The co-operation, which I receive from all the tobacco interests, helps to ensure that both the letter and spirit of this Government's voluntary agreement is upheld.

I have referred to Wimbledon to show the type of co-operation and depth of discussion that my Department and the tobacco interests enter into to ensure that no breach occurs. Before I close I should answer more specifically the question of what the hon. Gentleman believes to be advertising of a particular cigarette brand at Wimbledon. I have drawn hon. Members' attention to what took place in 1982, namely, an admitted breach of the voluntary agreement. What happened was that a German subsidiary company which markets Kim cigarettes had, under licence, negotiated a contract with an Italian leisurewear company trading under the title of "Top Line" to produce outfits carrying the name "Kim Top Line" and using the Kim logo colour scheme.

The company concerned in the United Kingdom, which is, incidentally, British American Tobacco, told its German subsidiary and the players concerned that the word "Kim" must be omitted from any logo on outfits to be worn in the United Kingdom. It was agreed that the words "Top Line" could be used with the Kim house colours. That is entirely consistent with the voluntary agreement. Those changes have been made and I am satisfied that no breaches of that agreement have taken place at Wimbledon so far.

I hope that the House will consider that my comments should satisfy the hon. Gentleman. He is anxious to ensure that no breaches occur— so am I. Everybody should understand that we believe in the effectiveness of the Government's voluntary agreement with the tobacco interests which sponsor sporting events.

It is my firm understanding that no breaches have occurred, but I stress that, if the hon. Member or any other hon. Member believes that he has evidence to the contrary, he should write to me immediately. I, of course, undertake to ensure that prompt and careful investigations are carried out. The Government's aim and policy remain to maintain a balance betweem the vital sponsorship that our sport today needs whilst ensuring that the voluntary agreement is kept and there is thus no excessive advertising of tobacco in the sensitive environment of sporting events.

I am deeply anxious to ensure that all tobacco companies and their representatives ensure that breaches do not occur. If they do occur, I need to be told immediately and I guarantee that they will not occur again.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at fourteen minutes to Eleven o' clock.