SBJ/April 27 - May 3, 1998/No Topic Name

True concern - or blowing smoke

A major tobacco company paid for a public – service ad that uses five prominent race-car drivers to discourage underage smoking, but the company isn’t taking credit for it on the ad.

The full-page ad features five of NASCAR’s more prominent drivers – Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Mark Martin, Dale Jarrett and Terry Labonte – standing side by side, looking fiercely into the camera.

"There’s one thing we all agree upon," the ad copy reads. "No I.D. No Smokes. No Exceptions.

The ad appeared in several magazines targeted toward NASCAR fans, including three published by Street & Smith’s which also publishes SportsBusiness Journal.

Though not credited on the ads, R.J. Reynolds paid for them. Typically, such ads carry tag lines that identify the sponsor. This one mentions NASCAR’s "Winston Cup" team but never mentions the tobacco manufacturer beyond that.

"The reason is the fire we come under from those on the anti-tobacco side who think we’re being disingenuous," said Chris Powell, media relations manager for R.J. Reynolds’ sports marketing arm. "We decided it was best to let the ad stand on its own merit."

R.J. Reynolds is the title sponsor of NASCAR’s Winston Cup series, along with several other racing series. The company annually pumps about $40 million into racing, according to industry estimates. The tobacco industry last year accounted for about 20 percent of motorsports’ sponsorship dollars, analysts at IEG Inc said.

Hoping to counter that attachment, anti-smoking groups have gotten involved in racing in recent years. Nicoderm, maker of the quit-smoking patch, last year sponsored a car at CART’s Marlboro 500 in Fontana, CA. And a group called FAST (the Fight Against Smoking Team) sponsors cars at sports car races across the country.

An anti-tobacco group hasn’t shown up as a sponsor on the NASCAR circuit yet, but groups have been vocal in their opposition to the tobacco companies’ presence in the sport, saying the attachment to sports heroes like Earnhardt and Gordon glamorizes smoking in the eyes of children and teens.

R.J. Reynolds says it uses sports marketing to sell only to adults.

"That (No I.D. NO Smokes campaign) is only one of several programs that we as a tobacco company have in place to combat youth smoking," Powell said. "We asked for the drivers’ help on the project and they were more than willing to do so."

 

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