Why is Smoking Still Permitted on the Sidelines in Soccer?

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There are a plethora of studies and white papers that discuss the detrimental impact that smoking has on cardiovascular fitness. Guides such as this one from the CDC clearly outline the possible health problems people who smoke can suffer from and there’s no way that athletes can compete at a high level if they smoke. So, when it comes to elite sports, the likelihood is you won’t see an athlete with a cigarette in their hand.

Although, the same cannot be said when it comes to coaches. Yes, the very people who are meant to be setting an example for all to follow. For instance, the Italian game is renowned for having several high-profile coaches, who happily sit on the bench each week, puffing away in a haze of smoke while watching their Serie A teams play in one of Europe’s best leagues. So, let’s try and unpack why this still happens.

Is it a Cultural Thing?

Why do we still allow this in elite sports? Shouldn’t these role models be seen to live a healthy life? Is this just a cultural aspect that is deemed acceptable in certain regions in the soccer world such as Europe and Latin America?

The latter may be true. You would have to go back to the 70s or 80s to see a coach smoking on the sidelines in the English Premier League. It just wouldn’t happen today. 

What would sponsors think of having a high-profile coach, viewed by billions live on TV each week, smoking a cigarette while aiming to guide their team to a win in a prestigious match?

Yet, if you examine the Serie A or La Liga more closely you will see many coaches aiming to relieve some sort of tension with a cigarette. In Italy, smoking is seen as ‘classy’ similar to how it was in black-and-white Hollywood where every actor could be seen with a cigarette. In Latin America, the bar seems to be even lower. Coaches are front and center, often getting through large amounts of cigarettes, oblivious of the role they may be playing in other picking up a pack from the grocery store, unaware of the adverse health issues smoking causes in the short and long-term. 

But what other alternatives do players and coaches have that don’t necessarily get them the blowback, draining a cigarette with each toke on TV gets them? 

Let’s move on to snus. 

The Obsession with Snus

While the Spanish, Italian and Latin American leagues will happily smoke in full view of the media and public, there is an obvious need to be a little less obvious when receiving a nicotine hit in the Premier League. Vice reported in 2023 about the surge in Premier League players using snus. The article notes that “Several players have been caught on camera appearing to be using snus, which comes in the form of a small moist pouch of powdered tobacco which is inserted behind the lip, in the dugout during top-tier games.”

While snus is very common in Scandinavian countries and the US as an alternative to smoking, it has only just started to gain traction in the UK. Several players have been seen secretly putting snus under their lips by TV cameras. 

Other subtle alternatives

Another subtle alternative that is being used by sportsmen and women as well as coaches is the popular nicotine pouches that are produced by the likes of ZYN, Rogue, On! and Velo. This feature by Fox Sports touched on the fact that there has been a surge in MLB players turning to nicotine pouches because of the ease of use, subtle nature of the pouches, and the abundance of flavors as they see them as a “cleaner alternative,” according to the feature by sports writer Jake Mintz. All of the aforementioned pouch brands are super popular in the US and are stocked on the nicotine pouch platform Prilla. Because of platforms such as Prilla, the ease with which these pouches can be obtained is anywhere between 1-5 business days depending on location. So, it’s no wonder that these athletes look for a fast alternative to counter their cravings. With social media rampant nowadays, and professionals in elite sports under constant pressure to adhere to lofty societal standards and pressure, it’s no wonder they have begun to look for an alternative that is a little more subtle.  

The future of smoking or alternative tobacco and nicotine products

It’s hard to say whether there will be a clamp down on smoking and its alternatives in the coming years order to set an example for the next generation. Sports governing bodies have already outlawed smoking brands from sponsoring elite sports – no longer do we see McLaren sponsored by Marlboro. Or more importantly, in this instance, Premier League teams entertaining lucrative deals to sign with their tobacco brand – not just because it has been prohibited by the Football Association – but because of the moral and ethical issues surrounding encouraging tobacco use. 

The subtle alternatives are certainly a workaround and have longevity due to being smokeless. Most remove tobacco from the equation which is why they are prohibited, while also keeping the usage out of the public glare. So, will there be sanctions put on this in the future? Probably not. 

In all major US sports, snus and nicotine pouches have become popular. They are smokeless, so don’t have the same impact on the lungs and cardiovascular system and the possibility of diseases. And this is a major factor. 

Whether or not these alternatives are deemed a good example for the onlooking sports fans can be left up to interpretation but at least it is reducing the amount of people in elite sports seen smoking onscreen. Could we see an outright ban on smoking on the sidelines in soccer games? If the bans on sponsorship deals have shown us anything, it could be outlawed in the future. Maybe just not in some of the leagues mentioned in this article. 

If you enjoyed this post, and you are a huge soccer fan, take a look at the other similar posts we have on Busted Coverage. Alternatively, you can read about this USFL player who was cut for smoking on the field in 2022. 

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