Tobacco Sponsorship and Surrogate Advertizing: The Blazing Demon Affecting Youth in India – The ISDS Community Forum


Tobacco in any form has an injurious impact on health. Despite of all known dreadful effects of tobacco it is still being promoted to a large extent around the world. Though tobacco manufactures claim that they do not target youth or kids but still they practice unique strategies such as sponsorship and surrogate advertising that attract youth the most. Surrogate advertising involves advertising for products that use the same brand name as the tobacco products. The effects of tobacco advertising and marketing on the smoking/tobacco chewing behavior of young people have been studied more extensively over the past few years globally. There is a direct link between the exposure to tobacco marketing practices found appealing by youth and an increase in their tobacco consumption. Results from the Global Youth Tobacco Survey (2000 – 2004) supported by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), conducted among students aged 13-15 years in 24 states in India show that students who were exposed to cigarette brand names through product sponsorship and other promotional activities, including surrogate advertizing, were two times more likely to be smokers compared to those who were not exposed to such activities.

Although advertisement and promotion of tobacco in any form is legally banned in India sponsoring a sports event or a cultural event by tobacco companies is one of the strategies strategies tobacco manufacturers adopt for promoting their brands and enticing youth. For example, ‘Wills’ (a brand of Indian Tobacco Company – ITC, a subsidiary of British American Tobacco) sponsors Indian cricket team/matches. 

Tennis tournaments are sponsored by ‘Gold Flake’ cigarette (brand of Godfrey Phillips India Ltd. – GPI, a subsidiary of Phillip Morris). Boat racing is sponsored by ‘Four Square’ cigarettes (brand of GPI). Polo events and golf are sponsored by ‘Classic’ (cigarette brand of ITC). ‘Charms’, a cigarette brand sponsors the ‘Spirit of freedom concert’, a musical event. ‘Manikchand’, manufacturers of gutkha (chewing tobacco), patronizes the Filmfare awards ceremony every year. The “Red and White” Bravery Awards are organized by GPI to advertise and promote ‘Red & White” brand of their cigarettes. Such events are more of youth interest and these events portray consuming tobacco as the symbol of luxury and power. Moreover, sponsorship of these events by tobacco companies helps to send the message that tobacco consumption is normal, and indeed necessary to fully enjoy them. 

As mentioned earlier, surrogate advertising of tobacco products is prohibited under the law; the companies still manage to promote their products through it.. For example, many tobacco companies advertise music CDs, water bottles etc in the same brand name as their tobacco product. Advertising paan masala/ mouth fresheners bearing the same brand name as tobacco products is a common practice which helps in promoting the different forms of tobacco under one roof by the technique of brand stretching. 

These often appeal directly to young people, and when televised may amount to the same effect as direct advertising on television. This is especially worrying given that young people are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of tobacco. 

To conclude, tobacco companies in India continue to promote their brands successfully despite of remarkable progress in tobacco legislation. Anti-tobacco policies should involve public health education campaigns especially targeting youth making them aware of the unique strategies adopted by tobacco companies to attract them towards tobacco experimentation and use. The tobacco legislation should be enforced stringently ensuring that tobacco industry would not target youth.