Tobacco's Return to Racing

by Michael Satterfield

As a boy, I remember Marlboro's livered race cars flashed across the television screen from exotic destinations I longed to visit, it never made me want to smoke, it just was part of international racing. I simply associated tobacco with racing because in the '90s tobacco was racing hard. Rothmans International was sponsoring everything from rally cars to Moto GP teams, the Camel Trophy was the greatest automotive adventure on the planet, and in NASCAR drivers with nicknames like "The Intimidator" raced in the Winston Cup. In Formula 1, Mild Seven backed two of Michael Schumacher's world championships before Marlboro helped him win five more, and Camel funded the Williams FW14B Formula 1 program, motorsports and tobacco had been partners for decades. 

But since 2006 tobacco has been effectively banned from F1 so completely that even historic cars that are running as part of F1 pre-race events must be stripped of their period sponsorship logos. While over the years teams and tobacco brands have tried to skirt the rules, large brands like Lucky Strike and Marlboro have been erased from the sport that their sponsorship dollars help build, that is until recently. 

Last year Ferrari unveiled a new sponsor 'Mission Winnow' which is backed by Marlboro's parent company Philip Morris. Similarly, McLaren just launched a partnership with British American Tobacco's "A Better Tomorrow" initiative, both programs are backed by big tobacco and promoted as having the aim of ending smoking. While I was attending the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, Texas I had the opportunity to meet with Simon Dowding, Senior Global Communications Manager for Philip Morris International, to chat about how PMI and Mission Winnow fit into the future of motorsports and their commitment to end smoking.

I received a text message asking me to meet Simon at the Mission Winnow | Scuderia Ferrari suite at Circuit of the Americas. It was what I expected, clean modern, lots of red, leather sofas, and countless servers offering food and drink making sure all of the VIPs were comfortable. I honestly didn't know what to expect from the meeting, most media would have you believe that cigarette companies employe monsters, the 'Truth' anti-tobacco campaign launched in 1998 when I was sixteen, the message from the ad-council? Bad people wanted to sell me cigarettes. But for whatever reason,  I never was attracted to smoking, despite loving the Marlboro livery and growing up with uncles who were real-life Marlboro men.  

So as a nonsmoker who didn't really have a negative bias towards tobacco brands I sat and listened to what Simon had to say. Firstly, the Mission Winnow partnership has been great for Ferrari, F1 is expensive and the roughly 100-million dollars a year that come from Mission Winnow helps keep Ferrari on the track. Secondly, PMI is working towards a smokeless future by developing new ways to deliver the flavor and nicotine that consumers want in a less harmful manner. This started with the introduction of their smokeless IQOS system in 2014, which is effectively a small handheld heating element, that heats but doesn't burn the tobacco resulting in the user not ingesting smoke. He pointed to people in the suite that were using the IQOS system. He went on to tell me how nearly 9 million users around the world have switched to the IQOS system from cigarettes and more about the in-depth science behind it. But since it is still tobacco, how does PMI get around the sponsorship restrictions imposed by governments and sanctioning bodies?

Mission Winnow can sponsor Ferarri because it is an initiative with the intent of “ensuring that one day all smokers quit cigarettes and switch to better alternatives” so it isn't a tobacco product. If it seems like a loophole, it kind of is, PMI funds Mission Winnow, who then funds Ferrari's motorsport branch. But it is racing and as we know racing teams find any way to make the rules work to their advantage. With the costs of running any modern motorsports program, every dollar counts, so Mission Winnow is a welcome partner at Ferrari and didn't scare off other mainstream partners like Shell. However, government pressure in Australia, Canada, and France lead the team to drop the Mission Winnow livery at those races during the 2019 season. 

So now the big question, what does WINNOW actually mean? Most people assume it is simply the blending of the words WIN and NOW, having not won a championship in over a decade many Ferrari fans have been screaming "WIN NOW" for years. But the word has a deeper meaning, describing the process of blowing air through grain to remove the chaff, it is a refining process that leaves only the best portion behind. That concept of refining is what is at the core of the Mission Winnow message, from panel discussions on innovation to the web-series The Dominant Ones hosted by retired NBA player Dominique Wilkins, to supporting the Bob Woodruff Foundation Stand 4 Heros charity, Mission Winnow is more than just a way to funnel sponsorship money to Scuderia Ferrari and Ducati

While some countries are making the direct connection between Mission Winnow and PMI as a promotion of tobacco products it will be interesting to see how this plays out in 2020. Since you cannot walk into a corner store and buy a pack of "Mission Winnows", they aren't banned from sponsoring motorsports teams technically under the FIA rules, they might be backed by one of the largest tobacco companies in the world, but they aren't selling cigarettes with Mission Winnow. 

Phillip Morris International IQOS

Simon went on to talk about the overall mission at PMI, to one day stop selling traditional cigarettes altogether to allow smokers healthier alternatives and to use their vast resources to expand into other innovative markets. The IQOS that was introduced in 2014 in Japan and was being used in the Ferrari Suite by many patrons had received permission from the FDA to be sold in the USA in early 2019 and was formally launched this past October. This device heats a tobacco cartridge, that looks like a tiny cigarette, to 662°F without combustion, fire, ash, or smoke. The heat releases the taste of the tobacco but because it is not burned the levels of harmful chemicals are significantly reduced compared to traditional cigarettes. While PMI admits the best way to stay healthy is to not smoke at all, the IQOS at least offers an alternative to traditional cigarettes. 

This was not a sponsored post, all opinions are my own. For the interview, I was invited to the Mission Winnow Suite while I was already attending the race at an adjacent suite. For resources on how to quit smoking visit


  1. I say let them sponsor the cars, if you go out and start smoking because you saw a race car you were likely gonna be a smoker anyways.

  2. Alright! Cool liveries will return!

  3. it's pure hypocrisy.

    gov'ts ban advertising because it makes politicians look like they are doing something. but they won't ban the outright sale of tobacco because they make millions of tax dollars from sales.

    if tobacco is so bad, then gov't should just completely ban the product outright and make it like heroin or cocaine but they won't because they are hypocrites. so that being said, if you aren't going to ban the substance outright and make it illegal, then there should not be a ban on advertising it either.

    fwiw, i'm a non-smoker and have no problem with tobacco advertising.

  4. This is one are where I am a bit of a prick - I think all alcohol and tobacco should be banned from sports period. I get the reason why the companies do it and sports would take a big hit, but sports is about projecting a healthy life balance which is a direct contradiction of the other two industries.

  5. Tobacco sponsors have been responsible for some of the most iconic liveries. Let people make their own choices. I just want cool looking cars

  6. I believe people should have freedom to do dumb things, including putting burning leaves in their mouths.

  7. It's an international sport, so individual countries making their own rules is unworkable. The world feed goes to all countries and it's impossible to filter based on local laws.

    But the big issue is developing countries where tobacco companies are still fighting to conceal the dangers of smoking. Those markets are huge business for the tobacco companies. They still have powerful lobby groups and can affect laws on smoking and advertising.

    In countries where informed consent is applicable then I have no issue with smoking, but in countries where the population is being denied information about the dangers of smoking, then allowing a sport to advertise to those countries via global broadcast is unacceptable.

  8. Alcohol, gambling and drug advertising should be banned in all sports. Tired of seeing football teams with gambling companies on their shirts.

  9. It seems silly that they won't promote tobacco but alcohol is fine, I am sure weed and CBD is ok, but heaven forbid anyone see the name of a cigar or cigarette brand.