Health campaigners slam action, say damage has been done

Activists demand change to law regulating tobacco products and alternative advertising enacted 20 years ago

Screenshot of recently aired ad, featuring Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn and Shah Rukh Khan.

Health campaigners have slammed Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar’s ‘apology’ to his fans after he was criticized for appearing in an advertisement endorsing a popular brand of pan masala.

The advert, which aired recently, featured Kumar alongside his peers and Bollywood veterans Ajay Devgn and Shah Rukh Khan.

Screenshot of Akshay Kumar’s ‘apology’ on Instagram

“The announcement will continue. The damage that advertising will do in terms of influencing people, its fans and followers and everyone else, is done. Trade in tobacco, gutkha, pan masala and carcinogens will flourish. So how do these excuses help? Will people see the apology or the ad? Bhavna Mukhopadhyay, chief executive of the Voluntary Health Association of India, said Down to earth.

Mukhopadhyaya pointed out that Kumar promised never to endorse tobacco products a few years ago “despite many offers”.

“He said it was a matter of principle. What made him endorse them now? she asked.

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“Celebrities need to be sensitive to their fans and remember that they have a responsibility to them. They shouldn’t be endorsing these products in the first place. Sure, that money can be used for tobacco control work, but the harm has been done,” said Monika Arora, Director of Health Promotion Division, Public Health Foundation of India. Down to earth.

Substitute Advertising

Mukhopadhyaya and Arora also pointed to the practice of tobacco companies engaging in substitute advertising.

“Tobacco companies claim to sell cardamom or fennel. But you will not come across any of these products in the market. This is all an invention. Liquor companies do the same. And it entraps young people,” Mukhopadhyaya said.

Arora noted that the law was very clear about not allowing brand extensions, stretching, sponsorships or surrogate advertising.

“But the gutkha companies have the same brand for cardamom and gutkha, like in this case. A young child will not be able to distinguish when he goes to buy such a product whether it is cardamom or gutkha. It plays with their young minds,” Arora said.

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Both urged changes to the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act 2003 (COTPA).

“There has been talk over the past seven years about changing COTPA, which regulates tobacco substances. Several groups have called for the inclusion of a clause that will clarify that one cannot substitute advertising for a brand that sells tobacco,” Mukhopadhyaya said.

She pointed out that COTPA needs to be amended because it is very old:

It happened in 2003. And now we are in 2022. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge. There were no social networks at the time. And a lot of violations are happening right now on social media. It is urgent to modify it.

“COTPA definitely needs an amendment to be able to address social media streaming platforms so that any type of advertising is prohibited on all channels. I believe that a high-level committee comprising members of the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting as well as the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is needed to deal with such violations,” said Arora.

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