PCI Pulls up Leading Media House for Indirect Tobacco Promotion at Youth Event

Octobr 29, 2020

Authors: S. K. Arora
The Leaflet

he indirect advertisement of tobacco products is not only a grave violation of law but also socially irresponsible of big media houses. DR. S K ARORA, Additional Director of Health in Government of Delhi, narrates his lone fight to protect public health against the media giant, The Times of India.

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The tobacco industry uses different modalities to attract people, especially youth, to trap them into a habit of using tobacco.

Its introduction of e-cigarettes, advertisement of the tobacco brand and use in eatables like pan masalas are the latest strategies of the tobacco industry to survive in the market.

Pan masala and tobacco stand for disease and death.

They affect the user physically, economically and socially.

It also affects our environment adversely.

Data from the World Health Organisation indicates that in our country 30% of tuberculosis, 40% of all cancers, 90% of oral cancers and 20% of atherosclerotic disorders like Hypertension, Brain stroke, Heart attack, Diabetes and many other diseases are due to tobacco and Pan Masala consumption.

It is worrying that the tobacco industry is roping in Bollywood, big media houses and cricket stars to advertise tobacco brands.

Even if the Pan Masala does not contain tobacco, it will surely contain areca nut (Supari) which as per scientific evidence is genotoxic which is the property of chemical agents that damages the genetic information within a cell causing mutations that may lead to cancer.

In India, more than 13 lakh people die because of tobacco-related illness every year.

It is worrying that the tobacco industry is roping in Bollywood, big media houses and cricket stars to advertise tobacco brands.  Events like Filmfare Award ceremonies, musical events, literary events, cricket matches and advertisements in daily newspapers are very frequently sponsored by tobacco manufacturers.

The major viewers of these events are the youth who easily gets influenced due to immature minds and get trapped into the habits of tobacco and pan masalas.

The immature mind of every school going child will accept Rajnigandha tobacco and pan masala as an acceptable and good product because of its strategic display at the festival where celebrity authors are speaking.

The current matter is regarding the advertisement of one tobacco and pan masala brand carried by Times of India (TOI) Delhi edition. The paper was promoting their annual event Times Lit-fest that hosts reputed writers, authors and prominent personalities as speakers. The audience is largely young, including school and college children. When we noticed it the first time in 2017, the event was sponsored by a well-known tobacco and pan masala brand “Rajnigandha”.

The immature mind of every school going child will accept Rajnigandha tobacco and pan masala as an acceptable and good product because of its strategic display at the festival where celebrity authors are speaking. I requested these authors to feel responsible and refrain from participating in the event, but it was in vain.

We issued a show cause notice to the Editor, but it had no effect. In the past too we issued several show-cause notices to The Times of India daily on several occasions but the newspaper continued to violate the guidelines.

So, we lodged a complaint with the Press Council of India (PCI) in November 2018. Since the case was pending with PCI, TOI proceeded with similar violations in 2019.

Times of India violated Tobacco advertisement laws

The promotion of the Rajnigandha brand in Times Lit-fest was strategic, as it was a blind promotion of a brand without mentioning any product. Rajnigandha is registered as a tobacco product and has a trademark certificate by the authority under the Ministry of Commerce.

Advertising and promoting “Rajnigandha” is a violation of Section 5 of the Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA 2003). In fact, the way it was promoted was also a violation of the Food Safety and Standards Act.

Section 5 of COTPA 2003 bans all types of direct and indirect advertisements of tobacco products. Governments of India has laid down rules related to ban on tobacco products advertisement from  August 1, 2005 (under its notification no. GSR 345 (E) dated May 31, 2005).

As per Rule 2 (a) of the said notification indirect or surrogate advertisement means:

• The use of name or brand of tobacco products for marketing, promotion, or advertisement of other goods, service and events.

• The marketing of tobacco products with the aid of a brand name or trademark for other goods and services.

• The use of particular colour and layout that is associated with particular tobacco products and

• The use of tobacco products and smoking situation when advertising other goods and services.

This is a punishable offence under Section 22 of COTPA 2003.

Recommendation of Inquiry Committee at Press Council of India

The enquiry committee carefully perused the record of the case and heard the parties.

The Times of India relied on the certificate given by the company which said that no tobacco product or variants were used under the Rajnigandha brand name. The newspaper was unable to reply when it was categorically asked to clarify if ‘Rajnigandha’ is registered as tobacco brand or not by the enquiry committee.

Advertising and promoting “Rajnigandha” is a violation of Section 5 of the Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA 2003).

The paper argued that while accepting the advertisement for publication it checked with the advertiser whether the product contained tobacco products. In case of contravention, it is the advertiser who is liable as the paper accepts advertisement in good faith without suspecting the bonafide of the advertiser.

Section I of the Press and Registration of the Books Act, 1867 (PRB Act) defines editor to mean “the persons who controls the selection of the matter that is published in newspapers”. Thus, the editor’s duty is to select the entire matter including the classified advertisements, which are published in the newspaper.

The inquiry committee said that the ‘matter’ would not only mean news contents or editorials but every word printed in the newspaper.

Since the certificate of the authority under the Ministry of Commerce shows that ‘Rajnigandha’ is a tobacco product, the statement of the company to the contrary cannot be accepted.

Other statutory provisions relevant are Section 7 of the PRB Act and Clause 36(XII) of Norms of Journalistic Conduct. These make the Editor responsible for all matters including advertisements. Thus, there is no escape from the conclusion that the Editor is responsible for all the matters published in the newspaper including the classified advertisements.

Since the certificate of the authority under the Ministry of Commerce shows that ‘Rajnigandha’ is a tobacco product, the statement of the company to the contrary cannot be accepted. Hence, the newspaper is solely responsible for publishing an advertisement for a tobacco product.

Accordingly, the Inquiry Committee said that the Editor of TOI must be careful and refrain from publishing such advertisements in the future.

Big media houses should feel responsible towards the society and masses, especially the youth.

Thus, such advertisements should be stopped in public health interest. If the media house does not have money, then it’s better not to organise such events rather than taking sponsorship from hazardous products.

It is necessary to note that mass media is one of the best and strongest modes of health education nowadays.  Advertisement in such a leading newspaper encourages the youngsters to use the product and land up in the habit of using tobacco or pan masala, which may end up with cancer and death at a very early age.

What is the point of teaching values to our school children if they will not survive till adulthood as they started consuming pan masala and tobacco?

(Dr. S K Arora is the Additional Director of Health, Government of Delhi. Views are personal.)