Anti-smokers irked by Coke/Du Maurier link

The latest skirmish between tobacco manufacturers and anti-smoking forces took place last month when the Canadian Council on Smoking and Health launched a boycott of Coca-Cola products.The council was angered by Coca-Cola's involvement with Imperial Tobacco in the Du Maurier Ltd....

The latest skirmish between tobacco manufacturers and anti-smoking forces took place last month when the Canadian Council on Smoking and Health launched a boycott of Coca-Cola products.

The council was angered by Coca-Cola’s involvement with Imperial Tobacco in the Du Maurier Ltd. Classic, a Ladies Professional Golf Association tournament held in Ottawa Aug. 22-28.

Coca-Cola offended the council by having tags bearing the ‘Always Coca-Cola’ slogan and the Du Maurier Ltd. Classic logo appear on bottles of Coke at local convenience stores.

‘What worries me is seeing Coke getting into bed with the likes of Du Maurier, and seeing this as a viable method of association,’ says Janice Forsythe, council executive director.

‘You have Coke Classic, red Coke and red Du Maurier,’ Forsythe says.

‘From a philosophical point of view, it’s clever,’ she says.

‘But, the question is whether Coke can remain unscathed. I could give them the benefit of the doubt that this was a mistake, but it stands on its own merits.’

Shelagh Kerr, Coca-Cola’s vice-president corporate affairs, says the tags were printed by a local bottler at the request of the Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club, where the event was being held.

Kerr says this has been done in the past to support golfing events, but she concedes the matter would be discussed internally in the future.

A spokesperson for Air Canada, a co-sponsor of the event, could not be reached for comment.

Laurie Schild, manager of news services and media relations at Canadian Airlines International, which sponsors a number of events that are co-sponsored by tobacco companies, said co-sponsorship with a tobacco company would be troubling to the airline if the tobacco company were the title sponsor, as it was in the Ottawa golf tournament.

As of Aug. 31, Canadian Airlines banned smoking on all of its flights.

But Schild said she does not see co-sponsorship as a problem if Canadian and the tobacco company were both secondary sponsors.

Terry Zuk, national director of public affairs for Labatt Breweries of Canada, which has co-sponsored events with tobacco manufacturers in the past, says the topic will likely be discussed at the brewery now that it has been identified as a potential problem.

‘It is not standard operating procedure to ask who the other sponsors are at an event,’ Zuk says.

‘It’s usually just a question of demographic,’ he says.

At Kraft General Foods Canada, Corporate Affairs Director Guy Nadeau points out that although kgf is owned by Philip Morris Companies of the u.s., the two firms are separate operations.

‘Our position has always been in Canada that food and tobacco are completely separate,’ Nadeau says.

He says he was not aware of kfg being involved in any events associated with tobacco interests.

When Ottawa banned advertising by tobacco companies a few years ago, the latter set up shell companies using the names of their brands to sponsor events.

About $100 million is estimated to be spent annually in Canada on such promotions.