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‘How much money do you want?’

Updated on: 20 June,2023 09:25 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Dr Shekhar Salkar |

Onco-surgeon lauds cricket board decision to ‘ban’ alcohol/tobacco advertising; calls out stars, talks shutting down surrogate promotions

‘How much money do you want?’

The author writes that in the IPL, there is significant in stadia advertising and this has considerable influence on the young. File pic/Ashish Raje

Dr Shekhar SalkarThe Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has issued a directive to disallow tobacco and alcohol-related advertisements in cricketing activities. This is commendable. We must remember though that Indian law prevents anybody advertising tobacco and alcohol. So, the ‘ban’ word may not make sense, as by law it is prohibited. The national legislation: The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003 (COTPA) has provisions to prohibit advertising tobacco products. Yet, the mandate regarding indirect and surrogate advertising is not defined, the tobacco industry exploits this ambiguity in promotional campaigns. So, the problem is not with direct  advertisement but surrogate advertising.

Complex questions

We witnessed in the recently concluded Indian Premier League (IPL), our heroes featuring in surrogate advertising for tobacco products. Is the BCCI going to ban this kind of advertising, which is indirect or surrogate? That is the bigger question. In fact, the BCCI can take a bold decision of stopping surrogate advertising by citing moral values rather than just looking at this through the legal lens.

Past look

I am sceptical about the implementation of this ‘ban’. My reservations stem from the past where organisations have publicly announced such commitments, but the ground reality is that tobacco companies have used loopholes in existing regulation to advertise their products. Certain campaigns promoting tobacco under the garb of paan-masala and mouth fresheners are examples of how the industry circumvents laws.

Huge impact

The BCCI is a premier sporting institution. Cricket is followed by the young, and it is the responsibility of those in high office to set clear guidelines and regulations to ensure no indirect/surrogate promotion of tobacco or alcohol takes place under the garb of advertising revenue. Even former players, commentators, experts, in fact, just anybody associated with the game, should not be advertising indirectly too. The impact is huge. In the IPL, there is significant in stadia advertising, the ball goes to the fence for a boundary and you will suddenly see a particular advertisement. It has considerable sway over the young. The industry with its mammoth size has sizeable influence and can pressure the government. It also has consumers, many of who die young consuming tobacco, smoking. So they have to keep churning a larger consumer base, keep luring people towards these products. Young patients, and we see many more in the 25-30 age group, do tell us that their main reason for falling into these bad habits is peer pressure or getting influenced by the famous promoting these products. Contrary to what many think, there is no safe limit to consuming tobacco or smoking. You cannot state: I do this within limits. I say that it is like being killed by a pistol or an AK-47. Both are lethal, anyway.

How ironic

I ask players, even retired ones and our famous persons advertising for all this: are you poor? Tum log gareeb ho kya? How much money do you want? In the end, one has to be socially conscious too. Then, we also have the ultimate irony with some celebrities featuring in advertisements like these, becoming brand ambassadors for a medical facility or hospital! That is a googly that truly makes me scoff. I sign off saying, like a skilled batsman reading that googly correctly, see through the surrogate advertisement and never be bowled (over) taking up a killer habit.

The columnist is an onco-surgeon and president NOTE, National Organisation for Tobacco Eradication (India)

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