Fossil fuel polluters are the new tobacco

(The Ecologist, 22 Mar 2021) New study calls to end hundreds of high-carbon deals in sports sponsorship.

At the 2021 Australian Open tennis championships the prominent courtside sponsors included a fossil fuel company, an airline and a car maker. Sponsorship of sport by major, high-carbon polluters has replaced once common and now disgraced deals with tobacco companies.

Sport used to rely heavily on tobacco sponsorship until the importance of public health overcame vested interests and largely ended the practice. In 1990 more than 20 different televised sports were sponsored by cigarette brands in the United States alone, and a single tobacco company, RJ Reynolds, admitted in 1994 to sponsoring 2,736 separate sporting events in a year.

As a child Andrew used to sit watching county cricket matches in England sponsored by the cigarette company Benson & Hedges. At the time, smoking’s health impacts were well known - just as today the climate science is we'll established - but tobacco sponsorship was still widespread, promoting tobacco products and smoking to everyone, including children, sat watching cricket games.


Now the world faces a climate emergency and sport is floating on a sea of high carbon sponsorship deals with major polluters. How long will it be before it catches up with the lessons of the eventual ban on tobacco deals? In the 1970s, when advertising was allowed, around half the UK population smoked. Now, with it gone, that number is less than one in five.

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The Ecologist, 22 Mar 2021: Fossil fuel polluters are the new tobacco