Driving Addiction: F1, Netflix and Cigarette Company Advertising

When will F1 catch up to other sports and ban tobacco sponsorship?

A blurred F1 car demonstrates the dangers of how tobacco branding on cars is reaching new audiences through Netflix's F1 docuseries

The popularity of Formula 1 is booming. That means more advertising exposure for some of its top sponsors—cigarette companies.

During the 2022 race season, British American Tobacco (BAT) and Philip Morris International (PMI) spent an estimated $40 million sponsoring the McLaren and Ferrari teams respectively.

It’s no mystery why these cigarette companies have their sights set on F1. The sport has a global TV audience of 445 million unique viewers. It’s also actively working to grow a younger audience via social media and esports.

Now, with the help of Netflix’s series, “Formula 1: Drive to Survive,” footage containing tobacco-related branding on the McLaren and Ferrari teams’ cars and livery is reaching new audiences, including those who don’t watch F1. The program may be violating broadcasting restrictions on tobacco advertising in many countries around the world.

The series’ fans skew young, which aligns with the tobacco industry’s interests: About 46% of viewers are under age 34. The show is also credited with prompting a nearly 30% increase in female interest in the sport.

A blue and orange McLaren F1 care prominently displays the Vuse logo in several places.

Branding for Vuse, BAT’s e-cigarette, featured prominently in Season 4. Photo credit: Netflix, ‘Drive to Survive,’ Season 4 Episode 2.

STOP’s new report, Driving Addiction: F1, Netflix and Cigarette Company Advertising, details how these demographics and others are being exposed to tobacco-related branding. According to new analysis, Netflix streamed more than one billion minutes of “Drive to Survive” programming that contained tobacco-related branding. Half of all Season 4 episodes contained tobacco-related branding in the opening minute.

Tobacco companies are on a mission to hook a new generation of users to their products. By allowing them to sponsor teams like McLaren and Ferrari, F1 is giving Big Tobacco access to marketing platforms, including Netflix, it could never use on its own.

It’s time for the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, F1’s governing body, to finally ban all tobacco sponsorship in the sport once and for all. Until it does, F1 risks exposing every fan to harmful tobacco industry advertising.

Download Driving Addiction: F1, Netflix and Cigarette Company Advertising or the executive summary to learn more.