Tobacco firm wins sponsorship battle

Tobacco products companies emerged victorious after a hard-fought battle recently over sponsorship  the industry's last marketing frontier in the wake of federal bans on advertising of its products.At a city council meeting in the southwestern Ontario town of Guelph, where...

Tobacco products companies emerged victorious after a hard-fought battle recently over sponsorship  the industry’s last marketing frontier in the wake of federal bans on advertising of its products.

At a city council meeting in the southwestern Ontario town of Guelph, where Imperial Tobacco has its largest Canadian plant employing more than 700, it was voted to accept a $700,000 grant from the du Maurier Arts Foundation.

Montreal-based Imperial Tobacco makes du Maurier cigarettes.

However, the grant is contingent on the 800-seat theatre in Guelph’s proposed $12-million civic centre being named the du Maurier Arts Ltd. Theatre and the foundation getting limited promotional rights.

Proposed marketing promotions include the du Maurier name on programs, tickets and other material, all with a look reminiscent of the logos used on duMaurier cigarette packages.

And therein lies the controversy.

Detractors say the planned sponsorship is just a cheap advertising opportunity to promote a life-threatening substance to the public, including children.

Supporters say the civic centre project will die without the du Maurier sponsorship.

Hilary Stead, a reporter with The Guelph Mercury daily newspaper, says the controversy started about three years ago when Guelph Mayor John Counsell approached Imperial Tobacco for support for a civic centre that would, among other things, be the venue for the annual Guelph Spring Festival.

Under fire

Since then pro- and anti-smoking factions have expressed their views, Counsell has come under fire, and others have said they want an arts centre no matter where the money comes from.

Stead says even though the grant has been accepted, it still may not be a done deal as opposition within the community to the deal is still strong.

Among the anti-smoking groups was Guelph’s health community, including the chief officer of health, members of which closed ranks and came out against accepting the grant.

Stead says up to 25 delegations of health professionals per night made presentations to city council meetings.

Obstacle overcome

One obstacle to the grant was overcome when the community services committee rewrote the city’s alcohol and tobacco advertising policy to allow du Maurier’s offer to be accepted.

Under various measures by Ottawa to ban advertising of tobacco products, sponsorship of sports and cultural events is one of the few marketing opportunities still open to the industry.

Television and radio advertising stopped in 1972, all other direct advertising of tobacco products has been banned since 1988, and now in-store promotion is also prohibited.

According to the Tobacco Products Control Act, only the names of incorporated companies may be used for sponsorships.

Some tobacco makers have set up separate companies named after brands to sponsor events.

Those set up by Imperial Tobacco include the Matinee Ltd. Fashion Foundation and the du Maurier Arts Foundation.

In his remarks last month to Guelph city council, Mark Taylor, president of the Addiction Research Foundation (arf), said:

‘Yet, despite the formal ban on advertising, tobacco companies have found a major loophole in the Tobacco Products Control Act.

Loophole

‘It is this loophole that has allowed them to keep their brand names in the public eye through the sponsorship of arts and sports events and facilities,’ Taylor said.

‘Let us have no illusions,’ he said. ‘Whatever the legal technicalities, tobacco sponsorship of cultural events is advertising.

‘Why else have the tobacco manufacturers created shell companies using brand names like ‘du Maurier Arts Inc.’ or ‘Export ‘A’ Inc.’, to funnel their promotional dollars through?

‘And as advertising, the sponsorship of sporting events, rock concerts and music festivals is aimed directly at young people,’ Taylor said.

‘By associating tobacco with such glamorous or healthy activities, sponsorship promotes an image of these products that is as attractive as it is unreal,’ he said.

Commenting on Guelph’s choice to accept the grant, Taylor says he understands the city’s desire for an arts centre, but adds the decision means accepting tainted money.

The arf’s stance is clear: the loophole should be closed and tobacco sponsorships should be banned by law.

Resurface

Taylor expects the issue to resurface following the next federal election and the loophole to be closed within a few years.

He says alternative methods of funding should be found for the arts, adding the arf is examining a program in Australia that places a small supplementary tax on cigarettes specifically to provide a fund to sponsor cultural events.

The Institute of Canadian Advertising, the group representing ad agencies, supports the tobacco industry’s right to advertise its products and sponsor events.

President John Sinclair says the ica bases its stance, not on the merits or demerits of tobacco, but on the issue of freedom of speech.

‘We’re not about to say that tobacco is a good product,’ Sinclair says. ‘We’re saying it’s an infringement of freedom of speech to ban advertising of a product.

‘As long as it’s a legally sold product in the country, there should be freedom to advertise that product,’ he says.

Evidence

‘There is considerable clear evidence that advertising bans  tobacco or alcoholic beverages  don’t hinder the consumption of those products.

‘In the advertising practice, the objective and accomplishment is to switch from one brand to another.

‘There’s very good indication based on research that advertising doesn’t grow a market.

‘I have had the occasion of challenging the arf information because if you read their research carefully, they cannot establish that advertising does grow the tobacco or beverage alcohol market. They’re inconclusive on that.’

Robert Parker, president of the Ottawa-based Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers’ Council, says sponsorship is a legal activity widely used by tobacco companies both before and after the Tobacco Products Control Act and is something they do to get recognition.

Parker attended the Guelph council meeting and questions the logic of the widely represented anti-tobacco forces, which argued that if the grant was turned down it would contribute to the campaign against tobacco use.

‘To me, it defies common sense that if the theatre is not built, someone in Guelph walking past the empty lot will stop and say, ‘I think I’ll stop smoking,’ ‘ he says.

‘It is equally fallacious to suggest that somebody will walk by the theatre and see a sign and say, ‘Gee, I think I’ll start smoking.’

Defies common sense

‘It defies common sense and it defies everything the [advertising] industry knows about how these decisions are made in Canada or anywhere else in the world.’

Parker says that when you compare Canada, with its advertising bans, consumption bans and package warnings, with the u.s., which has a different regulatory environment and allows some advertising, smoking is declining in the two countries at identical rates.

Partly true

Roberta Ferrence, a scientist with the arf’s prevention and health promotion department, says Parker’s statement is partly true.

Ferrence says it is true that surveys show the proportion of smokers in the population of the two countries is declining at the same rate.

But she points out that in Canada the total per capita consumption, which was at one time higher than in the u.s., is now declining at a faster rate.

She says the decline in the amount of tobacco products consumed in Canada can be attributed to the bans and especially to higher costs because the most rapid drop is seen in those aged 15-19.

The number of smokers in that group has declined by 50% over a 10-year period in Canada but, says Ferrence, that trend is not being mirrored in the U.S.