August 13th, 2006

Tobacco, Alcohol Ads Hard to Escape

By Jan Jarvis
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

With stopwatches in hand, professor Lara Zwarun and her students kept track of how many times they spotted tobacco and alcohol logos on TV.

In analyzing more than 83 hours of televised sports, they found logos on everything from car hoods to ice rinks.

“This stuff is not subliminal, but it is below the radar,” said Zwarun, assistant professor of communications at the University of Texas at Arlington. “It doesn’t leap out at you as advertising.”

Even after the Master Tobacco Settlement Agreement of 1998, tobacco product logos are still prevalent on television, Zwarun found. That agreement banned direct and indirect targeting of underage people in tobacco advertising and the use of cartoons in cigarette ads, and sharply restricted brand name sponsorship and outdoor advertising.

Since the ban, U.S. cigarette sales have dropped more than 21 percent, according to the National Association of Attorneys General. In 2005, 378 billion cigarettes were sold in the United States, the lowest number since 1951.

Still, tobacco products are so prevalent in society that in 2003 tobacco companies spent $15.15 billion to promote their products, according to the American Lung Association.

The most common sports where tobacco and alcohol ads appear are auto racing, ice hockey and boxing, said Zwarun, who researched ads from 2000 to 2002. In her study, which appears in this month’s American Journal of Public Health, Zwarun also noted tobacco ads in unexpected places such as next to ski jumps.

Tobacco companies are still sponsoring sports events on behalf of their brands, but not to the same extent as before 1998, said William Chipps, senior editor of the trade publication IEG Sponsorship.

“I have not seen that many examples of tobacco companies spending that much money on sponsorship or trying to get around regulations,” he said.

For years tobacco companies were into motor sports, investing about $40 million in racing annually, Chipps said. But in recent years they have expanded to other events, such as music tours.

It’s different with beer and malt liquor companies, which have sponsored NASCAR teams since 1972, Chipps said. Since a ban on hard liquor ads was relaxed in 2004, alcohol sponsorship has exploded, he said.

Zwarun said tobacco and alcohol companies get a big payoff from sponsorships because brands are viewed not only by the people at the event but also by the television audience.

Zwarun said she is not a zealot fighting the alcohol or tobacco industry, just a researcher looking at advertisements. “What I wanted to show was that a lot more commercials are coming across our televisions and we don’t even realize it,” she said.


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