It is a habit many are trying to kick, this mixture of alcohol, tobacco and sports. But like any addiction, the quitting isn't easy, especially when profits are at stake.
For nearly two decades, alcohol and tobacco products have adorned the names of sporting events.Take the $127,300 Ironman Triathlon, brought to you by Bud Light.
Or the women's tennis tour, sponsored by Virginia Slims for $16.7 million.
The $72,000 International Cycling Classic has Coors along for the ride, and NASCAR racing has the R.J. Reynolds tobacco company at the controls of the Winston 500. The list is long.
To sponsor an event, a company gives money to a promoter or organizer, often for the prize fund. In exchange, the company gets to link its name with the sport. For example, Marlboro's logo will adorn the hull of the Stars and Stripes catamaran that will be used in the America's Cup sailing race, and Miller beer labels are on Bobby Allison's Buick.
Some companies will buy "title sponsorship," which lets them name the event after themselves. Those are events such as the Budweiser 500, Jose Cuervo Beach Volleyball Championships and the Camel GT motor-racing series.
But there's trouble brewing for these sponsors. Sporting events and promoters are feeling increased pressure from coalitions concerned about the effects of tobacco and alcohol to drop those sponsorships. And the coalitions want sports to go cold turkey.
In London last June, the Coalition on Smoking Or Health, a Washington D.C.-based organization, bombarded members of the Women's International Tennis Association with pleas to change sponsors. The Women's International Professional Tennis Council, WITA and representatives of Phillip Morris met at Wimbledon to discuss the expansion of its worldwide sponsorship.
Virginia Slims, a subsidiary of Phillip Morris Inc., has sponsored women's tennis for 13 of the past 18 years and last year pumped $16.7 million into the tour. The company is responsible for a large chunk of the $300,000 being offered as prize money in last week's Virginia Slims of Los Angeles.
The coalition, which involves three large health organizations - the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society - and Advantage International, an association of athletes' agents, had helped persuade Procter & Gamble to bid for the sponsorship, according to coalition spokesman Cliff Douglas.
But Procter & Gamble withdrew its offer. The WIPTC and Phillip Morris are proceeding with exclusive negotiations.
"They (Proctor & Gamble) claimed they didn't want to break up the strong bond between Virginia Slims and the tour," Douglas said. "We received the strongest opposition from the older players, like Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. They've been with the tour longer and wanted to keep it."
Douglas said some of the younger players were more receptive to the idea of a new sponsor.
"The younger ones feel it's wrong that the tour is promoting a lethal product," he said. "Cigarette smoking doesn't have a place in an athletic world."
Billie Jean King, who was instrumental in bringing women's tennis and Phillip Morris together in 1970, said censorship is dangerous.
"The freedom of choice is really important," King said. "When you start censoring, where do you start and when do you stop?
"Do you think if you take away cigarette sponsorships people are going to stop smoking? Baloney."
According to the Coalition on Smoking Or Health, 320,000 people in the United States die each year from diseases related to cigarette smoking. The organization also estimates there are 50 million smokers worldwide.
Officials from the WIPTC and Phillip Morris were reluctant to discuss the issue because of the sensitive nature of the negotiations. But Jane Brown, manager of the WIPTC, said the anti-smoking wave that has hit the country will play a factor in the meetings.
Ellen Merlo, vice president of marketing for Virginia Slims, led the recent negotiations in London. She said she is hopeful of a major announcement at the U.S. Open.
But the Coalition on Smoking Or Health's fight didn't go up in smoke. According to Douglas, Phillip Morris agreed to drop the Slims name from tournaments in Europe. Tournaments overseas now will bear the name of a product made by General Foods, a subsidiary of Phillips Morris.
Rep. Mike Synar, D-Okla., first introduced legislation in 1986 seeking a similar ban of advertising and promotion of cigarettes in this country. According to a spokesman in Synar's office, the bill has been gaining support each year, and his staff expects it to pass sometime in the next two years.
"It's incredibly tough trying to put health up against a multibillion-dollar industry," said Dr. Rick Richards, president of Doctors Ought to Care, a physicians' organization that helps promoters find alternative sponsors.
"Health can be pretty boring when you have the opportunity to line your pocket with millions of dollars," he said.
According to Richards, DOC has been monitoring the sports scene for the past 11 years, and it helped campaign against the WITA's association with Virginia Slims. He said his organization has been involved with many groups that have protested at Slims events.
"I think the 15-, 16-, 17-year-old competitors are seeing a cigarette company as a source of major embarrassment," Richards said. "I also think that other ethical corporations are not going to want to work with legal drug pushers."
Matt Walker, director of sports marketing and sponsorships for R.J. Reynolds, said his company is aware of the anti-smoking forces, but doesn't anticipate the tobacco company leaving the sports world soon.
R.J. Reynolds has been involved in sports promotions since 1971 and sponsors 1,600 sports events, ranging from auto racing to golf to Hobie Cat sailing. Although Walker wouldn't release R.J. Reynolds' budget for sports promotions and advertising, he did say the tobacco company spends $10 million to $12 million on its Camel GT Points Series.