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Ditch tobacco sponsors, health experts warn cultural institutions

1,000 experts sign open letter to London’s leading cultural bodies, including British Museum and Royal Academy, over ‘morally unacceptable’ sponsorship

More than 1,000 healthcare experts, including 57 professors, have signed an open letter calling on some of London’s most respected cultural institutions to abandon their financial links with big tobacco.

The British Museum, the Royal Academy of Arts, the South Bank Centre and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, have long-standing lucrative corporate membership and sponsorship deals with two leading cigarette manufacturers, which are banned from advertising in the UK.

The links have dismayed many in the medical community. “As a doctor specialising in the care of people with emphysema, I see the harm smoking causes every day,” said Dr Nick Hopkinson, reader in respiratory medicine and honorary consultant physician at the National Heart and Lung Institute, who is leading a campaign against the tie-ups.

“Tobacco companies, which rely on getting people addicted to products, which maim and kill, must not be allowed to use arts sponsorship as a way to present [themselves] as respectable.”

Tobacco giant JTI has corporate membership deals with the British Museum, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Royal Academy of Arts. JTI pays almost £40,000 a year to the Royal Academy for a premier membership package that sees the company listed in all exhibition catalogues. The company is also a corporate supporter of the Southbank Centre on whose website its logo appears.

British American Tobacco is an associate member of the Royal Academy of Arts and a corporate sponsor of the London Symphony Orchestra.

The Framework convention on tobacco control – to which the UK is a signatory – states that tobacco companies’ investment in corporate social responsibility initiatives should be treated as a form of advertising.

In 2007, Philip Morris International Inc, manufacturer of Marlboro, stopped funding a number of New York art institutions.

In their letter, published in Sunday’s Observer, health experts, including John Moxham, professor of respiratory medicine at King’s College London; Richard Ashcroft, professor of bioethics, Queen Mary University of London; and John Britton, director, UK centre for tobacco and alcohol studies, University of Nottingham; call on cultural organisations to rethink their relationship with big tobacco.

They warn: “Tobacco advertising has now been banned along with sponsorship of sport. However, tobacco companies continue to use sponsorship of some high-profile arts organisations to promote the spurious idea that they are responsible corporate citizens.”

Hopkinson added: “People can’t believe that the galleries, museums, orchestras they love could do this.”

Pressure on the likes of the Royal Academy to drop their links with big tobacco companies comes after BP ended its sponsorship of the Tate after 26 years following anger from environmental groups. The British Museum, National Portrait Gallery and other institutions have also been forced to defend themselves against claims that they accommodated the demands of the oil company, a major sponsor.

In a statement to Hopkinson, Will Dallimore, director of public engagement at the Royal Academy of Arts, said that JTI’s support had “indisputably helped the academy fulfil its endeavours to contribute to the artistic life of the country”.

A spokesman for the London Philharmonic said: “The LPO is grateful to JTI for its support and for providing our organisation with many platforms for us to make classical music more accessible and widen access to the arts.”

A spokesman for the British Museum said: “JTI supports an acquisition fund at the British Museum, which allows us to acquire objects for the museum’s modern Japanese collection. JTI have supported the Museum since 2010. The British Museum is grateful to JTI for their long-term support.”

A spokesman for JTI said: “It seems illogical that in a democratic society like the UK and at a time when funding for cultural and artistic institutions is under pressure, people would want to prevent a legitimate company like JTI from making a contribution to good causes.”

A British American Tobacco spokesman: “Like many other businesses we support art and cultural institutions throughout the UK through corporate memberships. The small amount of corporate memberships we have do not result in our brands being featured anywhere but simply provide the opportunity for our staff, customers and business partners to attend events, concerts and exhibitions alongside other corporate members.”

But Hopkinson suggested that the tobacco firms were using their support for the arts to retain key staff to give themselves a commercial advantage.

“In its annual report, British American Tobacco identifies the difficulty recruiting people because of the industry’s poor reputation, as a risk to its future profits,” Hopkinson said. “Arts sponsorship is one way that the tobacco industry can enable its own employees to deceive themselves about the true nature of what they are doing.”

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