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Thailand—lighting up a dark market: British American tobacco, sports sponsorship and the circumvention of legislation
  1. Ross MacKenzie1,
  2. Jeff Collin2,
  3. Kobkul Sriwongcharoen3
  1. 1Centre on Global Change and Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  2. 2Centre for International Public Health Policy, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  3. 3Southeast Asian Tobacco Control Alliance, Bangkok, Thailand
  1. Correspondence to:
 MrRoss MacKenzie
 London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Keppel Street, London WC1E 7HT, UK; ross.mackenzie{at}


Objective: To examine how British American Tobacco (BAT) used sports sponsorship to circumvent restrictions on tobacco promotion in Thailand, both a key emerging market and a world leader in tobacco control.

Method: Analysis of previously confidential BAT company documents.

Results: Since its inception in 1987, BAT’s sports sponsorship programme in Thailand has been politically sensitive and legally ambiguous. Given Thailand’s ban on imported cigarettes, early events provided promotional support to smuggled brands. BAT’s funding of local badminton, snooker, football and cricket tournaments generated substantial media coverage for its brands. After the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs decision that obliged Thailand to open its cigarette market to imports, Thailand’s 1992 tobacco control legislation established one of the world’s most restrictive marketing environments. BAT’s sponsorship strategy shifted to rallying and motorbike racing, using broadcasts of regional competitions to undermine national regulations. BAT sought to dominate individual sports and to shape media coverage to maximise brand awareness. An adversarial approach was adopted, testing the limits of legality and requiring active enforcement to secure compliance with legislation.

Conclusions: The documents show the opportunities offered by sports sponsorship to tobacco companies amid increasing advertising restrictions. Before the 1992 tobacco control legislation, sponsored events in Thailand promoted international brands by combining global and local imagery. The subsequent strategy of “regionalisation as defensibility” reflected the capacity of international sport to transcend domestic restrictions. These transnational effects may be effectively dealt with via the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, but will require the negotiation of a specific protocol.

  • BAT, British American Tobacco
  • FCTC, Framework Convention on Tobacco Control
  • STI, Subaru Tecnica International
  • SWRT, Subaru World Rally Team
  • TPCA, Tobacco Products Control Act
  • TTCs, transnational tobacco corporations

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  • i Alibi advertising is one of a number of terms used by the tobacco industry and advertising agencies to describe indirect advertising generally employed to circumvent advertising bans.82a

  • Funding: This work was supported by the Rockefeller Foundation’s Trading Tobacco for Health initiative and NIH grant R01 CA091021-03: “Globalization, the Tobacco Industry and Policy Influence”.

  • Competing interests: RM and KS are former employees of Action on Smoking and Health, Thailand. JC is a member of the board of the International Agency on Tobacco and Health, London.

  • Documents cited in this paper not currently available on existing websites will be posted on the Tobacco Control Research page on the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine website

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