It’s almost like the proverbial Hydra. The Government may have struck a blow on tobacco companies by banning advertisements, but cigarette and gutka manufacturers have reared their heads again by aggressively making promotional offers.
Godfrey Philips India, for instance, has started placing inserts in the Red and White cigarette packs offering free holiday trips to Malaysia, Singapore and other such destinations. The card urges consumers to try again, Apni kismat dobara ajmaiah, if they do not win a prize. Besides this, the company has also started placing mobile smoking lounges at various spots in Mumbai.
Gutka brands such as Simla have run a scratch-and-win promotion wherein the person gets back a sum of money and Manikchand (which claims to have a diversified business including drinking water) is offering free gifts such as refrigerators and scooters on redemption of coupons.
The Government is concerned about the growing violations of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Bill 2003. "We have to put in place a monitoring mechanism that is effective. In fact, the Union Health Minister, Dr Anbumani Ramadoss, has already said that the Government will step up the enforcement of the provisions of the Bill from next year," said Ministry officials.
Currently, there is a joint committee comprising representatives of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, Health Ministry, Women and Child Development Ministry and some others. This, however, has not been found effective in clamping down any surrogate tobacco ads. In fact, the advertising spends by gutka manufacturers on television has only increased manifold.
Said Mr Vincent Nazareth, Chairman, Crusade Against Tobacco, a Mumbai-based advocacy group, "We have pointed out these promotional efforts and other violations of the Act to the Government. In fact, the Congress leader from Mumbai, Mr Murli Deora has already written to the Health Minister on the issue. So far, no concrete steps have been taken by the Ministry."
Meanwhile, some officials in tobacco companies felt that they were doing no wrong. "Under the rules, advertisements at the point-of-purchase were allowed and the ban was only on dissemination of information on tobacco products through the media and other modes of advertising. Consequently advertising on the products was allowed," said a tobacco company official. However, another section of the industry said there were still grey areas to be sorted out.