British American Tobacco strikes first sports sponsorship deal in 13 years

BAT's last sports sponsorship was with its Lucky Strike F1 branding 
BAT's last sports sponsorship was with its Lucky Strike F1 branding  Credit: David Davies/PA/PA

British American Tobacco is to restart sports sponsorship for the first time in more than a decade - but it will not be promoting its cigarette brands.

The tobacco giant will return to Formula One, with its vaping brands emblazoned on McLaren’s racing cars.

BAT ended sports sponsorship in 2006, bowing out after a Europe-wide crackdown on tobacco sports advertising.

McLaren is to unveil its 2019 car on Thursday.

BAT, whose brands include Rothmans, Dunhill and Camel, historically enjoyed a long association with F1 in particular.

It culminated in British American Racing (BAR), which competed between 1999 and 2005, and was born from the ashes of the Tyrell team. BAR became Honda Racing in 2006 with its Lucky Strike brand the lead sponsor.

The Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act outlawed UK tobacco advertising in 2002, with a special carve-out for F1 until 2005.

Global cigarette behemoths are trying to claw back lost ground after specialist vaping stole a march on them in the burgeoning e-cigarette sector.

BAR Honda was sponsored by Lucky Strike Credit: TOSHIYUKI AIZAWA/Reuters

For example Juul, a San Francisco e-cigarette specialist, has built a dominant market share in the US, the world’s biggest vaping market. 

In December Altria, the US tobacco giant whose brands include Malboro and Philip Morris, bought a 35% stake in Juul for $12.8bn.

The rise of so-called “reduced risk products” remains a contentious topic. Public Health England has concluded vaping is 95pc less harmful than smoking. And some anti-smoking groups - such as Action on Smoking & Health (ASH) - believe replacing cigarettes with such products will “benefit public health”.

However, fears persist that youngsters who are not already smokers are being targeted by vape marketing. US regulators, in particular, have raised concerns about a growing number of under-18s that are taking up the practice.

The BAT sponsorship of McLaren will initially see the slogan “A better tomorrow” on its F1 cars, which this year will be driven by 18-year-old British rookie Lando Norris and Spain’s Carlos Sainz. Thereafter e-cigarette brands Vype and Vuse as well as glo heated tobacco will also be advertised.

BAT said the McLaren sponsorship would provide “a truly global platform with which to drive greater resonance of our potentially reduced-risk products”.