Up In Smoke

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I can remember when cigarette television ads were on television. Heck, I was just a kid, but I also can recall characters on some of my favorite shows lighting up like Rob and Laura Petrie on the Dick Van Dyke Show or Maxwell Smart.

There were also radio commercials, jingles and newspaper ads touting every tobacco brand known to man. But then the government stepped in and cigarette companies were banned from advertising. The next salvo was fired during the legislation that limited sponsorships and marketing efforts and the entire tobbaco industry became severely hamstrung in trying to promote its products.

Lets face it, times have changed and smoking is no longer cool. The public's health consciousness finally kicked in and with lawsuits flying the tobacco companies are on the run. And it looks as if the that hostile climate will finally chase R.J. Reynolds out of NASCAR.

RJR admitted this week it would consider ending its remarkable partnership with NASCAR if a suitable replacement could be found. Since 1971, RJR and its Winston brand has taken NASCAR racing from a backwoods niche sport to the big time. But the writing is on the wall the ride is nearing an end.

Because of the severe limitations and government intervention, Winston can't promote and leverage its sponsorship fairly. Although the company continues to pour millions of dollar into the sport, it is getting increasingly difficult to reap its benefits.

Winston didn't just build the Winston Cup Series into one of the world's most popular sports. It also kept the short track scene alive and well with programs that reached down to the grassroots level and supported the bacbone of the sport.

It's a shame, but understandable. Smoking is a ridiculous habit and one that I personally would love to see abolished all together. It still amazes me that in this day and age, people smoke in public places and ask for their "right" to do so. At several media centers, my workplace is actually a hazardous area. With free Winstons being passed out, I'm forced to sit next to people puffing away while I try not only to do my job but simply breathe. Thank goodness for places like Indianapolis, Chicagoland and Michigan that wisely ban smoking inside the media center.

But my guess is there will not be a problem finding a willing and suitable new sponsor for NASCAR's premier division. Even in this crummy economy, jumping on the NASCAR shooting star will be a smart move made by some marketing executive. And with the ability to use television, radio and online advertising to support its investment, the new title sponsor may bring NASCAR to even higher levels.

We should thank R.J. Reynolds for what they've done. However I for one am already breathing much better.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2003

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