RICHMOND, Va. — Several public health organizations are calling on the Orange Bowl and the NCAA to pull a three-year deal with Camacho Cigars, saying tobacco promotions like the Florida cigar company’s sponsorship of the football games have no place in sports and shouldn’t be allowed under federal tobacco marketing restrictions.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Cancer Society and eight other groups sent a letter on Tuesday to game organizers and officials with the collegiate athletic group that raised concerns over the deal.
The move by the public health groups is the latest in a push to get tobacco out of sports.
The Camacho Cigars sponsorship includes a large presence at several game-day events for the maker of Camacho and Baccarat The Game cigars, including lounges where fans can light up. The agreement is for the 2012-2014 Orange Bowl games and the 2013 BCS National Championship.
This year’s game in South Florida will be played Jan. 4 between Clemson and West Virginia.
“The association of cigar smoking with one of the nation’s top collegiate sporting events sends the wrong message to impressionable young fans and helps market cigars as athletic, masculine and cool,” the groups wrote in the letter. “Linking tobacco use to sports also downplays the serious health risks of tobacco products.”
In the letter, the groups say cigars are just as dangerous as any other tobacco use, which is responsible for about 443,000 deaths a year in the U.S. In some cases, the groups say cigars have higher toxins, tar and cancer-causing chemicals. They also say the cigar company sponsorship conflicts with NCAA rules that forbid student-athletes and all game personnel from using tobacco in any form at practice or in competitions.
Representatives for the Orange Bowl, Camacho Cigars and the NCAA did not immediately provide comment.
A 2009 law gave the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco products like cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, including restrictions on marketing like using brand names to sponsor athletic, musical, social and cultural events. Despite plans to do so in the future, the FDA has not yet asserted its authority over cigars, so those marketing restrictions don’t currently apply.
Cigarette smoking has been declining in the U.S., and about 21 percent of adults smoked in 2009. But consumption of cigars has remained at about 5.3 percent in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More young people smoke cigarettes, however — about 11 percent of high school students smoke cigars and about 17 percent of them smoke cigarettes.
Public health groups argue that when athletes are seen using the products, they set a bad health example for kids who look up to them as role models.
Major League Baseball players agreed in November not to carry tobacco packages and tins in their back pockets when fans are permitted in the ballpark and not to use tobacco during pregame or postgame interviews or team functions. But there is no ban on using it during games.