The Olympics, tobacco and personal fitness

12 August 2016

At last, the telecasts of the Olympics to the ASEAN region are truly tobacco-free. Even Indonesia, which until a few years ago was allowing tobacco sponsorship of the broadcast of the Games, has now stopped. This is a good achievement!

The Olympic Games have been tobacco-free since 1988, however tobacco companies found ways to circumvent the ban by sponsoring the telecast of the Games to Asian countries over the years.

We don’t mean to disrupt your samba of the tobacco-free Rio Olympics in mid-track. But expect the tobacco industry to still find a way to associate itself with good health and sports even if it has to scrape the bottom of the barrel.

The CEO of BAT in the Philippines for example has circumvented the country’s ban on tobacco sponsorship of sports by launching the Adopt-An-Olympian program through “personal contribution”.

He chose to personally sponsor long-jumper Marestella Torres-Sunang and track runner Eric Cray since 2014 who are both competing in Rio now. The BAT CEO knows through this way the arm of the law is not long enough to stop personal contributions. Neither does the law stop media articles extolling the generosity of tobacco executives contributing towards a worthy cause.

It is a devious way for a BAT executive to indirectly associate the company with sports by going directly and personally. The CEO provides cash support through allowances, rents, training expenses and nutrition, which includes medical consults, physical testing, massage therapy, dietary supervision, among others.

The CEO even got an endorsement from the president of the Philippine Athletics Track And Field Association (PATAFA) which would have been unlawful had BAT directly sponsored the athletes for the Olympics.

Needless to say both the BAT CEO-sponsored Olympians are non-smokers as they cannot keep fit and excel in sports by smoking.

Speaking of keeping fit, tobacco tycoon Lucio Tan Jr., owner of Philippines Fortune Tobacco, says to keep fit he does not smoke. That is like a butcher saying he is a vegetarian for health reasons. Only in this case while Tan pursues his personal fitness, cigarettes kills two thirds of its customers prematurely. That is 87,600 deaths every year in the Philippines.

The news articles that featured these two tobacco executives don’t explain why they continue to sell cigarettes when fitness and sports is so important to them.

For journal article, Smoke Rings: Towards a Comprehensive Tobacco Free Policy for the Olympic Games see here