The success of Formula One motor racing has largely been built on tobacco sponsorship, including that of BAT. In 1997 BAT brought its participation in the sport to new levels with the purchase of the Tyrrell team for approximately 30 million. The team raced as Tyrrell for the 1998 season before being renamed as British American Racing (BAR). 27 BAT used the team to advertise major brands, particularly Lucky Strike and State Express 555.
Although Formula One is an exceptionally expensive sport, for BAT the high cost of running an F1 team was justified as a promotional expense because there were few other opportunities for brand promotion. However in 2005 a European Union (EU) directive was brought into force which required national governments to legislate to prevent tobacco sponsorship. 28 The livery of cars competing at circuits outside of EU jurisdiction can continue (in some cases) to promote tobacco brands but these opportunities are declining as anti tobacco legislation begins to bite.
In 2004 BAR announced that technology partner Honda had purchased a 45% stake and in September 2005 it announced that Honda would be buying the remaining 55% stake. The team raced as Honda Racing F1 Team in 2006, the last year of the Lucky Strike sponsorship before leaving the sport. For the 2006 season, the team was renamed as Honda F1 Racing Team, with BAT only advertised at a couple of races. All links between the two companies were severed for 2007. 29
The Nigerian federal government filed a lawsuit against BAT and two other tobacco companies in 2007. Nigeria is seeking $42.4 billion, $34.4 billion of which the government seeks in anticipation of the future cost of treating Nigerians for tobacco related illnesses. They are also seeking $1.04 billion as a fine for the companies’ advertising and marketing campaign allegedly targeting Nigerian youth, and has asked the companies to fund an awareness campaign to educate young people about the dangers of their product. Several Nigerian state governments have filed similar petitions. 30 In 2008 the company was the subject of a BBC2 documentary, in which Duncan Bannatyne investigated the marketing practices of the company in Africa and specifically the way the company targets younger Africans with branded music events, competitions and the sale of single cigarette sticks. Many of the practices uncovered by Bannatyne appeared to break BAT’s own code of conduct and company standards. Towards the end of the programme, Bannatyne interviewed Dr Chris Proctor, Head of Science and Regulation, in which Proctor admitted that advertisements targeting children from three African countries were ‘disappointing’. 31 In many of these undeveloped countries, the awareness of health risks from smoking is very low or nonexistent. 32
In September 2001, BAT invested $7.1m in North Korean state owned enterprise called the Korea Sogyong Trading Corporation, which employs 200 people in Pyongyang to produce up to two billion cigarettes a year. The operation is run by BAT’s Singapore Division. Brands of cigarettes produced are Kumgansan, Craven A and Viceroy. BAT claims that the cigarettes are produced only for consumption in North Korea, although there are allegations that the cigarettes are smuggled for sale overseas. 33
British American Tobacco was declared the winner of the 2008 Roger Award, the award for the worst transnational corporation operating in New Zealand. 34
British American Tobacco spent more than 700,000 lobbying the EU in 2008, up to four times as much as the company declared on the EU’s register of interest representatives, according to a report by Corporate Europe Observatory. The report argues that BAT’s hidden lobbying activities, which are clearly not in the public interest, should be exposed to public scrutiny. 35
Canadian class action lawsuit edit
The three largest Canadian tobacco companies, Imperial Tobacco Canada (a division of British American Tobacco), JTI Macdonald Corp and Rothmans Benson & Hedges, are the subject of the largest class action lawsuit in Canadian history. The case started on 12 March 2012 in Quebec Superior Court, and the companies face a potential payout of C$27 billion (US $27.30 billion) in damages and penalties. In addition, a number of Canadian provinces are teaming up to sue tobacco companies to recover healthcare costs caused by smoking. 36