To the best of our knowledge, this is the first investigation of tobacco industry advertising and sponsorship in the rodeo industry and the way the tobacco industry used its connections to rodeo to support its larger political agenda. To date, the majority of literature on tobacco sponsorship has focused on motor sports, which receive 70% of all tobacco sport sponsorship.2,3,5,7,127
Many of the benefits tobacco companies obtain from motor sports sponsorship are also found in rodeo sponsorship. Rodeo is an increasingly important sponsorship for smokeless tobacco: in 2008 USST used its single Copenhagen brand sponsorship for the Professional Bull Riders, and the company remains a major corporate sponsor of NIRA and PRCA, with the company name, rather than a brand name, appearing in its sponsorship materials.
Policy makers could address tobacco sponsorship by adopting tobacco-free rodeo policies or eliminating distribution of tobacco samples. Tobacco sponsors inappropriately target young, rural males with low socioeconomic status; tobacco rodeo sponsorship is not traditional (it began in the 1970s); and many of the economic arguments raised against sponsorship bans were public relations efforts funded by tobacco companies and organized by their lobbyists.
Rodeo sponsorship has also facilitated tobacco companies’ access to children. The tobacco industry correctly argues that the majority of rodeo attendees are adults, but their internal documents also note that as many as 25% to 30% of rodeo attendees are younger than 18 years. Rodeo is promoted as a family event that features special activities for children.128–131
The PRCA and PBR Web sites have sections devoted to children’s clothing, games, and toys,11,15
and both rodeo associations offer discounts to children at select rodeo events.
Several studies have shown a link between tobacco sport sponsorship and increased smoking rates in children,2,4,132
although none have focused specifically on rodeo sponsorship. For example, smoking rates among adolescents aged 13 to 17 years increased from 2.4% to 11.1% after viewing a 1996 cricket series in India that was sponsored by Wills cigarettes.132
Tobacco sponsorship of sports increases smoking rates by creating a positive association between sports and smoking.4
A 2006 literature review concluded that tobacco promotions that include brand name sport sponsorship increase rates of smoking initiation in a dose-dependent manner.133
Our analysis illustrated how the tobacco industry was able to use rodeo sponsorship to affect tobacco legislation by building political relationships and by creating third-party organizations such as CASE and ACESS to lobby on their behalf. These tactics were effective; it was not until 2001 that sport sponsorship was restricted to 1 major sporting event per company (as part of the Master Settlement Agreements, not legislation or regulation), and it has yet to be completely banned.5
Fear of losing financial support and premium items such as scoreboards makes individual rodeos reluctant to give up tobacco sponsorship. These fears are not unfounded: after Montana State University decided not to allow the distribution of free tobacco samples at their 1998 rodeo, NIRA dropped them as the site of the College National Finals Rodeo, which moved to Casper, Wyoming.134
Public health groups are working to support tobacco-free rodeos. The Buck Tobacco Sponsorship Project and the related National Tobacco Free Rodeo Project at the Public Health Institute, a nonprofit public health organization, work to encourage rodeos to prohibit tobacco sponsorship and to provide technical assistance, such as model policies, success stories, and fact sheets.135
More tobacco-free rodeo policies are being adopted: in March 2008, Casper Baca Rodeo Company, an independent rodeo promoter that produces 50 rodeos per year throughout the Southwest, adopted a policy that banned tobacco advertising, sponsorship, and sampling at its rodeos.136
Local ordinances restricting tobacco sampling have been adopted in Greeley, Colorado; Chico, California; and Pendleton, Oregon, and numerous policies restricting tobacco sponsorship have been adopted throughout California, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and South Dakota.135
These efforts have included media advocacy and public engagement counteradvertising campaigns urging rodeos to reject tobacco sponsorship ().
Anti-tobacco sponsorship counteradvertisement published in the special rodeo issue of the Clovis Independent, April 20, 2007. Reprinted with the permission of the Public Health Institute.
Tobacco industry sponsorship of rodeo sports has been pursued primarily to increase tobacco sales, not to enhance the sport or the local community. The promotion of deadly tobacco products has no place in family-oriented community events and should be eliminated. Sponsorship also helps tobacco companies build allegiances with rodeo fans and government officials, which are then exploited for lobbying purposes. Rodeo sports also represent an opportunity for public health intervention, particularly to address health disparities in rural tobacco use. Alternative partnerships that promote community health should be explored.