McLaren Racing’s official livery for their #66 car at next month’s Indy500 is to feature British American Tobacco (BAT) branding promoting its Vuse e-cigarette.
McLaren signed a multi-year deal with BAT back in February, saying the partnership would focus solely on BAT’s ‘reduced risk products’. The deal marked BAT’s return to racing after a 13 year break from sport sponsorship prompted by a Europe-wide crackdown on tobacco advertising.
The racing team first debuted the BAT branding in preseason testing, promoting the ‘A Better Tomorrow’ campaign, which the company says is aimed at providing a portfolio of potentially lower-risk products for its consumers.
However, the partnership has courted controversy from the get-go. As part of the agreement, BAT decided to pass branding rights onto 7-Eleven, one of its key business customers. The decision was taken as the company does not sell any potentially risk-reduced products in the Australian market, partly influenced by the country’s Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act 1992.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called on the International Automobile Federation (FIA) to ban tobacco companies sponsoring teams even if they are not promoting cigarettes. Formula One banned tobacco advertising in 2006 but the e-cigarette BAT branding is permitted because it does not promote tobacco products.
McLaren were finally able to use BAT branding at the Bahrain Grand Prix last month, using the inventory to promote the Vype vaping brand.
According to reports, McLaren's deal with BAT has the option of nominating different liveries. The two parties have apparently taken the view that in countries where the product advertising is legal they will display it on the car providing it is a ‘potentially reduced risk product’ or a new generation product.
It is not the first time e-cigarettes have been a branding partner in IndyCar, with the Blu and Mistic brands having both sponsored teams in the past.
The 2010 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act prohibits tobacco companies in the US from sponsoring sports, music, and other cultural events. It also prevents the display of tobacco logos or products on t-shirts, hats, or other apparel. However, non-tobacco products are not subject to the same Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations.
McLaren are taking a full team to the Indy500 on May 26th 2019 with former Formula One champion Fernando Alonso bidding to become only the second driver ever to secure world motorsport's unofficial Triple Crown, which also includes victories at the Monaco Grand Prix, the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance sports car race.