The Olympic Games are touted as the premiere international sporting event for amateur athletes. Founded in 1894, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) wanted to keep corporate advertisements from associating with the Games in the name of maintaining the spirit of amateurism. Despite this, companies found ways to create financial links with the Olympics.
The tobacco advertisement in the Games first appeared in the 1920 Olympics.1 Tobacco companies placed advertisements in the official program and would often feature Olympic athletes in advertising campaigns. The advertising campaigns promoted the idea that their brand of cigarettes allowed athletes to lead healthy lives. Tobacco advertising in the Olympic Games reached its peak in the 1970’s and ‘80’s.
Cigarette companies paid for advertisements in popular magazines leading up and following Olympic Games. The advertisements would feature popular athletes such as swimmer Buster Crabbe, tennis player Lester Stoefen, hurdler Forrest Towns. Some of these ads were in the form of comic strips, and cigarette companies would often include quotes from the athletes about one of their Olympic races or copy explaining how the athletes used cigarettes to be successful.
In the 1980’s, the U.S. Tobacco Company was the official sponsor for the Winter Olympics at Lake Placid. Along with their sponsorship, attendees were given company branded memorabilia and giveaways, in the hopes of building a larger brand following. Tobacco companies maintained close relationships with the Games up until the Canadian National Olympic committee banned tobacco marketing in the 1988 Winter Olympics. The Games were now smoke-free, a movement stemming from the idea that products associated with the Games and promoted by Olympic athletes heavily influenced children.1
However, cigarette companies found ways to circumvent the ban. During the 1996 Games in Atlanta, tobacco marketing surrounded the Olympics despite being prohibited from sponsorship and access to the venue itself. Philip Morris ensured that it was one of the first to greet tourists entering Atlanta for the Centennial Olympic Games by funding the construction of eight glass-enclosed smoking rooms at the Atlanta airport.
Although the tobacco industry has since been generally absent from direct or indirect affiliation with the Olympic Games, there have still been instances in which tobacco advertising seeps in. In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, there was much controversy regarding Chinese cigarette companies and Olympics themed special-edition products.1 Some athletes have also taken on their own corporate sponsorship with tobacco companies. Policies regarding maintaining a tobacco-free Games throughout has been an area of scrutiny among independent research groups.
In preparation for its 2020 Summer Olympics, Japan has passed legislation hoping to transform its public smoking policy. In a plan released in January 2018, the Japanese government pledged to ban smoking indoors in the hopes to align themselves with the Tobacco Free Initiative from the World Health Organization (WHO) and IOC. Japan is among the last countries to ban smoking in places like hospitals and restaurants.
However, controversy has followed the Japan Olympic Committee, concerning sports ties with Japan Tobacco Incorporated, one of the largest tobacco conglomerates in the world. Many teams in Japan sport the Japan Tobacco JTI logo, and the company runs the volleyball world cup and owns the men’s volleyball team JT Thunders. The World Health organization recommends that tobacco advertising, especially that with exposure to youth, be banned. The WHO notes the heavy correlation between youth oriented tobacco advertising and tobacco usage.2 Japan Tobacco spends about ¥20 billion a year on its marketing and public relations, so there exists continual worry that the tobacco giant has influence over newspapers, government policies, and international sports competition sponsorships.3
1. Lee, Kelly, et al. "Smoke Rings: Towards a Comprehensive Tobacco Free Policy for the Olympic Games." PLOS ONE, 7 Aug. 2015, journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0130091. Accessed 8 Aug. 2018.
2. WHO wants total ban on tobacco advertising." World Health Organization, 30 May 2008, www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2008/pr17/en/. Accessed 20 Aug. 2018.
3. Brasor, Philip. "Media sidesteps calling Japan Tobacco out on advertising conflicts." Japan Times [Tokyo]. Japantimes.co.jp, www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/01/14/national/media-national/media-sidesteps-calling-japan-tobacco-advertising-conflicts/#.W3xDkNhKjOQ. Accessed 21 Aug. 2018.