MPs criticise Blackburn Rovers for sponsorship deal with vape company

The club are sponsored by the 'Totally Wicked' vaping company. Credit: PA Images

MPs have criticised Blackburn Rovers and other sports teams for promoting vape companies through sponsorship deals.

Conservative chairman of the Health and Social Care Committee Steve Brine said the Championship football team should “look themselves in the mirror”, while another MP said they were “outraged”.

They were speaking during an Opposition day debate in the House of Commons on children and vaping.

Blackburn Rovers features the logo of vaping brand Totally Wicked on its shirt, and last month the pair announced they would continue their partnership for a sixth season.

The Labour motion said the party was “concerned that children are being inappropriately exposed to e-cigarette promotions” and, among other measures, called for the Government to “ban vapes from being branded and advertised to appeal to children”.

Totally Wicked will continue as Blackburn Rovers front of shirt sponsor for the 2023/24 season. Credit: PA Images

Speaking from the SNP frontbench, Kirsten Oswald referenced the Advertising Standards Authority and said: “Blackburn Rovers – and there may be other teams who do this, this is the only team that I’m aware of who are doing it – are actually sponsored by a vaping retailer Totally Wicked for the sixth season in a row.

“We would find that absolutely unacceptable if a football club came out with cigarette branding on their shirts, and I cannot understand why it would be any more acceptable for a football club to come out with vaping advertising.”

She said she was “equally outraged” when Conservative former minister Caroline Johnson noted the vaping company also sponsored St Helens Rugby Football Club, with the team’s stadium named the Totally Wicked Stadium.

Ms Oswald said: “This is really unacceptable. If we’re serious about dealing with the harms to children and young people, we really should expect that sports clubs are going to be somewhere that they can see positive imagery.”

Mr Brine, a former health minister, speaking about “the Blackburn Rover issue” said it was “the opposite of totally wicked in my opinion”.

He said children used the phrase “totally wicked” and said he could “see why that would be attractive to that company wishing to carry that advertising on those shirts”.

He added: “I would ask Blackburn Rovers to look themselves in the mirror about that one, as much as the company that are doing the advertising. Because it takes two to tango. So yeah, I am concerned about it.”

Speaking more broadly about the issue of vaping being marketed to children, he said: “This is totally unacceptable and it is out of control.”

And addressing the rise in the number of children vaping, he said: “This situation cannot be allowed to continue.”

Blackburn Rovers play their fixtures at Ewood Park. Credit: PA Images

Health minister Neil O’Brien said: “We are committed, absolutely, to doing all we can to prevent children from starting vaping and we’re already taking robust actions in a range of areas, and we’re actively working on ways that we can go further.

“But it is essential that that is evidence-based and that we have measures that will actually be effective.”

Blackburn Rover’s chief executive Steve Waggott said at the time: “We’re delighted to extend our partnership with Totally Wicked into a sixth season.

“It’s great that two of the town’s biggest brands will once again sit side-by-side with each other during the upcoming campaign.”

Totally Wicked has previously defended its decision to advertise with Blackburn Rovers.

In an article on its website, the company draws a distinction between its activities and tobacco companies’ previous advertising campaigns, saying the latter were aiming to get people hooked on smoking so they could “unscrupulously profit from their addiction”.

It added: “Vaping brands and products, on the other hand, exist for the purpose of helping smokers to give up cigarettes. They have proved to be one of the most effective smoking cessation tools available.”

The company also described itself as founded and rooted in Blackburn and “privileged” to invest in its local area.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To know...