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The 13th World Conference on Tobacco OR Health

Building capacity for a tobacco-free world

July 12-15, 2006, Washington, DC, USA

Friday, July 14, 2006 - 4:30 PM

‘Thailand - Lighting up a Dark Market': British American Tobacco, Sports Sponsorship and the Circumvention of Legislation

Ross MacKenzie, Centre on Global Change and Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Keppel Street, London, United Kingdom, Jeff Collin, PhD, Centre for International Public Health Policy, University of Edinburgh, Medical Buildings, Teviot Place, Edinburgh, United Kingdom, and Kobkul Srivongcharoen, Formerly Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Thailand, 36/2 Pradipat 10, Phatathai, Bangkok, Thailand.

Objective: To analyse British American Tobacco's (BAT's) sponsorship of sports events to circumvent legislation prohibiting cigarette advertising and marketing in Thailand, acknowledged by the tobacco industry as both a key emerging market and a world leader in tobacco control.

Methods: Analysis of BAT's previously secret corporate documents.

Results: From its inception in the late 1980s, BAT's sports sponsorship strategies in Thailand were politically sensitive and legally ambiguous. Given Thailand's ban on imported cigarettes until 1990, initial BAT sponsorship strategies provided promotional support for smuggled brands. Company funding of local badminton, snooker, football and cricket tournaments generated substantial media coverage for its international brands by combining global and local imagery.

Following the GATT- enforced opening of the domestic tobacco market, Thailand's 1992 Tobacco Products Control Act (TPCA), established one of the world's most restrictive marketing environments. In response, BAT's sports sponsorship strategies focused increasingly on rallying and motorbike racing, using broadcasts of regional competitions as a means of undermining national regulation. BAT sought to dominate individual sports and to shape media coverage to maximize brand awareness. An adversarial approach was adopted, testing the limits of legality and requiring active enforcement to secure compliance with legislation.

The documents demonstrate the myriad opportunities offered by sports sponsorship to tobacco companies faced with increasingly restrictive advertising regulations, particularly the capacity of international sport to transcend domestic restrictions. To address these transnational impacts, a specific protocol to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control should be negotiated