CSR: Arts & Culture

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Arts sponsorship is a longstanding and effective form of promotion for the tobacco industry.1 As a form of corporate social responsibility (CSR), association with the arts aids the tobacco industry’s efforts to marry its brands with desirable traits, and to improve goodwill amongst a variety of audiences, from a local to international level. The arts are appealing to the tobacco industry because of their association with glamour, luxury and aspiration.2 In 1995, for example, Philip Morris (which split into Philip Morris International and Altria in 2007) published an advert stating that “it takes art to make a company great”, providing examples of art the company had sponsored in order to boost legitimacy with the public and bypass advertising regulations.3


Laws on tobacco advertising

Advertising tobacco-related products in every media form is illegal in the European Union. Directive 2001/37/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council lays down rules at Union level concerning tobacco products within the Member States, while directive 2003/33/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council prohibits advertising and sponsorship for cigarettes and other tobacco products “in printed media, information society services and radio broadcasting”.4

In the United States, advertising tobacco products rose to popularity in the wake of World War II. Camel Cigarettes, for example, sponsored a 15-minute news programme called “Camel News Caravan” from 1949 to 1956. The US Federal Communications Commission introduced the country’s first tobacco advertising regulations in 1967 when it required all TV stations to air at least one anti-smoking service announcement for every three cigarette advertisements. Despite several decades of barely regulated advertising the TV and radio landscape had become inhospitable for tobacco companies. As one tobacco industry lawyer said: “Right now they’re getting hammered by the antismoking ads, which are better than their own, and by the anti-smoking people, who are increasingly effective.”5

The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control additionally bans tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship of any form. Parties to the treaty are obligated to “undertake a comprehensive ban on all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship”.6

Corporate sponsorship

Tobacco sponsorship of the arts stretches back decades. When Philip Morris chairman George Weissman told a conference in 1966: “The future will see an ever-closer partnership between business and the arts” he could draw upon an established network of support.7. As Dr Alan Blum, the Director of the Centre for the Study of Tobacco & Society at the University of Alabama, explains, Philip Morris (which changed its name to Altria in 2003), began contributing to arts group in its hometown of Richmond, Virginia, in the late 1950s. “…the payments that the cigarette maker has since made to nearly 200 art museums throughout the nation (plus countless dance troupes, opera companies, repertory theaters, libraries, and ethnic arts organizations)—the most cultural funding by any corporation—dramatically increased following publication of the landmark Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health in 1964.”[A.Blum, Museum malignancy: What the Sacklers and Philip Morris have in common, The Cancer Letter, 18 October 2019, Vol.45 No.39, accessed April 20218 A 2001 review of tobacco sponsorship in the US reported that from 1995 to 1999, cigarette company spending on public entertainment increased from US$110.7 million to US$267.4 million. During this time period, tobacco companies sponsored 2733 events, programmes, and organisations in the US only, ranging from local charities to large umbrella companies. The total amount of these sponsorships was US$364.5 million.9 Outside the US, Philip Morris’ sponsorship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Art Award until 2006 was used to circumvent strict advertising restrictions in the region.10

Historically, arts sponsorships have come with strings attached: grantees are required to put the company’s name on advertisements, brochures and other promotional materials put out by the arts organisation.11 In 2010, for example, tobacco control activists decried Java Rockin’Land, described as the largest rock concert in Indonesia, for its sponsorship by Gudang Garang, the biggest tobacco manufacturer in the country.12 The festival offered “title sponsors”, which includes Gudang Garang, the benefits of its logo being included on all promotional material, on the primary stage, on committee t-shirts and a “special loyalty program” for its customers.13 The tobacco company used its position as sponsor to offer discounted tickets to school children.12 To read more about how the industry targets children and youth, visit the WHO resource hub on tobacco and youth.

In addition to being a form of advertising for their companies and brands, the tobacco industry also describes corporate sponsorship of arts institutions as aspects of its community investment programmes. For example, Philip Morris International (PMI) refers to contributions in this category as part of its “social contributions” (as opposed to political contributions, i.e. lobbying). In a policy document, PMI says that its social contributions “demonstrate our long-standing commitment to being an active and supportive member of the communities where we operate by supporting organizations and activities that address social and environmental needs”.14 Altria also says it focuses its charitable donations to “increasing cultural awareness through high-quality arts and cultural programming” as part of its “Inclusive Community and Culture” pillar of “community investment”.15

Sponsorship, or marketing?

In 2016, the tobacco industry spent US$122 million on experiential marketing. Experiential marketing is a marketing strategy that engages consumers using branded experiences.16 This includes cultural events, sponsored art exhibitions, film and endorsed music events.

Tobacco industry documents reveal “how companies have used this type of marketing for decades to encourage young adults to experiment with tobacco and increase consumption by infiltrating their social activities and normalizing tobacco use”.16 Despite restrictions on laws governing tobacco advertising, tobacco companies maintain connections to the arts as seen in their sponsorships of museums such as the Smithsonian and The Royal Academy and their desire to work with artists such as Alex Chinneck (see below).

Experiential marketing through sponsorships of artists and art institutions can help the tobacco industry to increase the appeal of tobacco brands and products and recruit new consumers by “associating its products with fun, excitement, sex, wealth, and power and as a means of expressing rebellion and independence”.17

Arts sponsorship also helps companies to increase their standing with business interests and the finance industry. Dr Blum states, in reference to PMI and its arts sponsorship, that “by legitimising and enhancing its image not only among the elite in the arts community but also in the business and financial communities”.2

Tobacco companies also use arts institutions to advocate on their behalf to policymakers. In 1994, the city of New York, where Philip Morris was then headquartered, was considering passing anti-smoking legislation to enhance the 1998 Clean Indoor Air Act.18 The New York Times revealed that “Philip Morris executives telephoned arts institutions that had benefited from their largess and asked them to put in a good word with Peter F. Vallone, the City Council Speaker”, requesting that they lobby against anti-smoking legislation.19 The Times reported that due to lobbying efforts by Philip Morris and its front group, the Tobacco Institute, and “pressure from cultural groups to loosen the restrictions”, some elements of the bill were eased.20 The tobacco company was ultimately, however, unable to stem the tide of anti-smoking legislation in the wake of the Master Settlement Agreement.

Tobacco industry sponsorship of arts institutions

The following is a list of major art institutions who have, as of 2020, reportedly received sponsorship and funding from tobacco companies and have them listed as members or sponsors.

United Kingdom

The British Museum

The British museum is the only major national art museum that still accepts tobacco money. Other major national art institutions such as the Tate, the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum have stated that they have not received tobacco funding at least in the last ten years.2

Japan Tobacco International (JTI) is the parent company of Camel, Benson & Hedges, Winston, and Silk Cut. JTI is listed as one of the contributors on the institution’s website.21 According to the museum’s spokesperson, the tobacco company has been a sponsor since 2010. “We are grateful for this long-term partnership”, the spokesperson told The Art Newspaper.2

The Royal Academy of Arts

The Royal Academy of Arts (RA) is located in Piccadilly in London. It is an independent charity and therefore is dependent on sponsorship. JTI is listed on The Royal Academy’s website as a “Premier Corporate Member”. British American Tobacco (BAT) is also listed as an “Associate Member”.22 Notably, JTI is the only sponsor listed that doesn’t have a website linked via the RA website. Only its initials appear: this could be due to concerns about receiving negative press for accepting tobacco sponsorship.

In addition to its corporate sponsorship, JTI has also sponsored individual exhibitions at the Royal Academy:

  • “Anish Kapoor” (26 September – 11 December 2009)23
  • “Mariko Mori: Rebirth” (13 December – 17 February 2012)24
  • “In the Age of Giorgione” (12 March – 5 June 2016)25

United States

The Smithsonian

The Smithsonian is an American group of museums and art institutions administrated by the US government. Many public bodies have rejected donations from both tobacco companies and Purdue Pharma, at the centre of the American opioid crisis. The Smithsonian accepted donations from Philip Morris USA, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes26 and Altria is listed as a corporate member in the museum’s 2019 annual report as well as having donated more than US$500,000.27

Exhibitions including Do Ho Suh: Almost Home in summer 2018 at the American Art Museum (SAAM) in Washington DC was sponsored by Altria. The company was also responsible for giving US$1 million to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, according to The Art Newspaper.2

The Whitney Museum of American Art

The ties between Philip Morris and the Whitney Museum of American Art go back to 1967. The museum even ran a satellite branch at Philip Morris’ headquarters in New York from 1983 until 2007, when the company rebranded as Altria and relocated to Richmond, Virginia.28 In 2009, The New York Times reported that Altria Group had donated around 150 artworks to the museum.29

The National Gallery of Arts

Based in Washington, the National Gallery of Arts lists Altria as one of its Corporate Sponsors.30 Altria has reportedly sponsored The National Gallery of Arts since 1986.31

Altria-sponsored exhibitions include Della Robbia: Sculpting with Color in Renaissance Florence, which was exhibited at the National Gallery of Art between 5 February and 4 June 2017.32

Tobacco Town

Richmond, Virginia has been called “Tobacco Town” by local media since cigarette companies Philip Morris and parent company the Altria Group contribute funding to many local institutions. According to the Virginia Museum of History and Culture, Philip Morris USA produces almost half of the cigarettes sold in the United States, and its Richmond plant is one of the largest in the world.33

Philip Morris and Altria are now the main employers in the city.34

The following are a list of arts institutions located in Richmond, Virginia included in Altria’s 2019 charitable contributions register:35

  • 1708 Gallery
  • CultureWorks
  • Richmond Ballet
  • Richmond Performing Arts Alliance
  • Richmond Symphony
  • Science Museum of Virginia Foundation
  • Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Foundation
  • Virginia Opera Association
  • Virginia Repertory Theatre

The Altria Theater

In July 2012, the former Landmark theatre in Richmond, Virginia received US$10 million from Altria as US$2 million instalments over five years. The theatre was officially been renamed “Altria Theater” in 2013, with the company holding naming rights for 20 years. A spokesperson for Altria theatre has stated that the company’s tobacco products will not be sold in the venue.36

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Altria has been a “proud supporter” of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) for the last 50 years. In the words of museum director Alex Nyerges, its contribution has been “instrumental in fulfilling the museum’s educational mission, strategic development, growth, and expansion”.2 In an interview with The Art Newspaper, he added: “We admire their transparency about tobacco-related health issues and look forward to working with them for years to come”.2

The company has its own “Altria Group Gallery” within VMFA, in which it has sponsored various exhibitions.37

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MOMA) has also received funding from Philip Morris International (PMI) as recently as 2014. PMI reportedly donated a total community grant of US$6,000 in 2014 to MOMA, according to the company’s “charitable contributions” report.38

International institutions

The Vaud Fine Arts Museum

The Vaud Fine Arts Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland opened in December 2019, and was partly funded by PMI.39 PMI donated CHF390,000 (US$41415) towards the construction of the museum and CHF50,222 (US$53,332) towards the running costs of the museum.40

The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity

The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is a global event for those working in creative communications, advertising and related fields held annually in Cannes, France. In 2019, according PMI’s website, “Rose McGowan was paid to attend Cannes Lions by PMI”, where she acted as a delegate and advocated for “having a conversation with PMI”.41

Rose McGowan is an actress and activist who is well known for her involvement with the #MeToo movement. The sponsorship, as well as the placement of PMI in the “Good Track” alongside Greenpeace and Sesame Street, considering that the company was simultaneously launching new cigarette campaigns in Indonesia and Israel, were heavily criticised.424344

New Zealand Fashion Week

In 2019, fashion labels were offered a free runway at New Zealand Fashion Week (NZFW) by PMI. Myken Stewart, daughter of NZFW founder Pieter Stewart, sent emails to fashion designers asking if they smoked or vaped and if they would accept funding from PMI.

It appeared that designers chose not to accept the tobacco companies’ offer of sponsorship; according to a statement by a PMI representative, “Philip Morris are not sponsors of NZ Fashion Week 2019”.45

Music sponsorship

The tobacco industry uses music sponsorship as a key marketing strategy to access consumers and undermine tobacco control measures. In a 2009 paper, researchers including globally-recognised global health policy expert Professor Jeff Collin, identified music sponsorship as a major transnational tobacco company strategy in Africa:46

“The strategic utility of music sponsorship to tobacco companies rests on its combination of wide-ranging, comparatively durable and less heavily regulated promotional opportunities with a clear capacity to reach key audiences”.

In a strategy paper on marketing its Benson & Hedges cigarette brand, BAT noted that music sponsorship was a particularly appropriate vehicle for “targeting younger consumers – the key to future growth”, as well as specific socioeconomic groups.47

BAT’s “Golden Tones”

British American Tobacco (BAT), which has long been the dominant tobacco company in South Africa, has used music sponsorship as a vehicle for product marketing and brand enhancement for decades, including notably in Nigeria in the 1990s, the birthplace of its “Golden Tones” promotional concert series. This campaign was emulated by BAT across the globe in Burma (now Myanmar), the Caribbean, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Thailand and South Africa.46

In 2001, after comprehensive tobacco control legislation was passed in South Africa that prohibited explicit advertising and sponsorship, BAT South Africa (BATSA) launched campaign “Incognito” to circumvent legislation and re-launch Lucky Strike cigarettes at 12 specially curated and restricted music events in Cape Town. This strategy was based on the belief that by targeting small numbers of “trend-setters”, BATSA could access the broader population, especially youth.

The campaign appeared to be a success: the website hosting content from the events was accessed more than one million times in the space of only one month.46

IQOS sponsorship of cultural events

PMI has sponsored various exhibitions and artists on behalf of its heated tobacco product, IQOS.

In April 2019, the vaping and heated tobacco brand IQOS owned by PMI commissioned British artist Alex Chinneck to create exhibits for the IQOS World exhibition during Milan Design Week. The artist’s installation featured one of the buildings on the Via Tortona peeling back on itself. The IQOS World exhibition was expected to be viewed by 50,000 people throughout the duration of the fashion week.48

Designer Karim Rashid collaborated with IQOS and PMI on several projects in 2018. These include the Konverse sculpture at the IQOS World store in Italy, the interior of the IQOS World Store, and a limited-edition IQOS sleeve accessory.49

From 10-17 January 2017, IQOS sponsored a photographic event at Der 4TE Raum in Zurich, Switzerland.50

Also in 2017, Philip Morris Italia sponsored a scouting event with Vogue, called IQOS Master Style. The call, which invites “the most promising young (over-18) designers, favoring the exchange between innovation and creativity” to create an accessories line for IQOS, and includes two links to IQOS Italy’s website on the webpage.51

JTI and The Japan Foundation

The Japan Foundation is a artisic and cultural organisation set up in 1972 to promote Japanese culture and language across the world. It has accepted donations from JTI since at least 2013 to support various artistic events in different countries. These are detailed on the Japan Foundation page.

Relevant links

Tobacco Tactics Resources

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