Tobacco advertising in sport

Tobacco advertising was banned on television by the European Television without Frontiers Directive and the implementation of the Television Act 1964 caused all cigarette advertising to be banned from television in the UK in 1965.

Advertising in relation to sport therefore provided the best opportunity for cigarette companies to get their products consistently seen by millions of people worldwide and millions of pounds were spent on this every year.  

Cigarette brands were long associated with sports such as motor racing, snooker and rugby. All of these attracted millions of viewers both on television and at the actual events. Anti-smoking lobbyists claimed these events helped convey the image to children that smoking was in some way cool and an accepted practice, with motor racing being the most criticised as brands such as Marlboro were associated with excitement and fast cars.

The Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002

Following the introduction of the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act in 2002, most forms of tobacco advertising and promotion were banned in the UK.

The Act banned tobacco advertising:

  • in the print media and on billboards as of 14 February 2003;
  • by direct mail and other kinds of promotions as of 14 May 2003;
  • around sport on the 31 July 2003.

In the case of Formula One Motor Racing, the sport was allowed to continue to be associated with tobacco advertising until July 2005.

Further regulation

Regulations in relation to brand sharing – also called indirect advertising – were also introduced in 2003 to prohibit tying in tobacco products with other products such as Marlboro clothes and providing advertising that way.

The UK is one of 180 parties to sign up to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) which in 2003 established a policy framework aimed at reducing the adverse social, health and economic impacts of tobacco. Article 13 of the FCTC requires parties to implement and enforce a total ban on tobacco advertising within five years of ratifying the FCTC. The FCTC defines tobacco advertising and promotion as ‘any form of commercial communication, recommendation or action with the aim, effect or likely effect of promoting a tobacco product either directly or indirectly’.

EU law

Throughout the European Union there is a partial ban on tobacco advertising which exists due to the EU Directive on Tobacco Advertising and Sponsorship. The Directive prohibits tobacco advertising with a cross border effect in the following kinds of media:

  • press and other printed publications;
  • radio broadcasting;
  • information society services;
  • through tobacco-related sponsorship events or activities taking place in EU member states.

While the Tobacco Advertising Directive imposes an EU-wide ban on cross-border tobacco advertising and sponsorship in all media, other than television, the Audio-visual Media Services Directive and Council Recommendation (2003/54/EC) on the prevention of smoking and on initiatives to improve tobacco control extended this to television, and all other forms of tobacco promotion.

The EU Directive also permits EU member states to apply stronger measures than the Directive itself so, for example, a ban on indirect advertising can be established in a member state through domestic law.

Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.