ICC Cricket World Cup 2023 had 41 per cent surrogate ads on smokeless tobacco: ICMR

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About 41 per cent of advertisements shown between the overs during the 2023 ICC Men's Cricket World Cup were surrogate ads of smokeless tobacco, according to a recent study by the ICMR-National Institute of Cancer Prevention and Research on World No Tobacco Day on Friday.  

World No Tobacco Day is observed every year on May 31 to raise awareness of preventable death and disease caused by tobacco. The theme this year is “protecting children from tobacco industry interference”.

The study, published in the BMJ, showed that the tobacco industry is flouting regulatory policies via surrogate advertising of smokeless tobacco products. This is of significance since India is a major producer and consumer of smokeless tobacco products with over 200 million adult users.

The country also contributes to nearly 80 per cent of deaths attributable to smokeless tobacco products, the study showed.

While Article 13 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCT), India's Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003 (COTPA) prohibits direct and indirect tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship (TAPS), the tobacco industry spends half a billion dollars annually on the promotion of smokeless tobacco products.

The study showed that the industry “circumvents TAPS restrictions” by making “indirect and direct tobacco product promotion in sports”.

Prof. Monika Arora, Vice-President (Research) at the Public Health Foundation of India, calls the tactic “brand stretching” -- a marketing strategy where the industry markets the smokeless tobacco product with a well-developed image in a different product category.

The Professor noted that in addition to FCTC and COTPA rules, the Cable Television Network Rules, 1995, of India also prohibits TV Channels from carrying out an advertisement that directly or indirectly promotes the sale or consumption of cigarettes and other tobacco products.

“These smokeless tobacco products are being advertised as elaichi (cardamom) or pan masala as non-tobacco products. Whereas, their primary products available in the market are tobacco variants with the same brand names and are widely used as smokeless tobacco products,” she said.

“Bollywood and sports celebrities endorsing these products is an area of concern given their massive fan following and adverse influence on adolescents and youth who consider these celebrities as their role models.”

According to data, India has 266.8 million adult tobacco users, which includes cigarette, and bidi smokers as well as smokeless tobacco users buying products in loose form.

Tobacco is a common risk factor for the rising cases of non-communicable diseases like cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and chronic respiratory diseases in India.

The public health expert called for “strict enforcement” of Section 5 of COTPA that underscores the prohibition of direct and indirect forms of Tobacco Advertising Promotions and Sponsorships “to effectively address the issue of glamourisation of smoking”.

“We need to initiate targeted campaigns in schools to dissuade children and adolescents from initiating smoking under the influence of excessive exposure being projected through advertisements, movies, and web series on streaming platforms,” Prof. Monika said.