What is tobacco and pan masala substitution advertising?


Image Courtesy: Vimal Elaichi

Picture: YouTube


  • World No Tobacco Day is celebrated on May 31 every year.
  • The sale of tobacco directly is prohibited in India, so it is advertised as substitute products such as mouth fresheners.
  • This form of advertising is called alternative advertising.
Every year, May 31 is celebrated as World No Tobacco Day around the world. It was created by the World Health Organization in 1987 to draw global attention to the deadly effects of tobacco consumption and to discourage the use of the carcinogen in any form.
Like the world, India is no stranger to the tobacco epidemic. The Global Adult Tobacco Survey (India) conducted in 2016-2017 estimated that there were nearly 26.7 million tobacco users in the country aged 15 and above.

Tobacco use is one of WHO’s biggest public health problems, which not only leads people to lose their lives, but also leaves behind heavy economic and social costs. In 2017-2018 alone, the total economic costs of tobacco use in India amounted to $27.5 billion.

Governments of India have repeatedly tried to introduce stricter policies regarding tobacco, but it is still quite popular among Indians, especially since other alternatives are much less accessible. And tobacco continues to be sold in India – only under a different name. You may have noticed that some of the larger smokeless tobacco companies use euphemisms to sell their gutka.

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This type of ad is called a substitute ad.

What is substitute advertising?

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A substitute, in simple terms, means a substitute. When a particular product, such as alcohol or tobacco, cannot be advertised directly due to a legal prohibition, it is sold under the disguise of another product sold by the same society.

This is true for tobacco and alcohol brands. Tobacco is not projected directly onto consumers but rather masked under the image of a mouth freshener.

Many Indian celebrities have endorsed some of the products from leading companies in India. For example, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgan, and Shah Rukh Khan all recently appeared in a commercial for Vimal Elaichi.

Ranveer Singh and Amitabh Bachchan were also enlisted by another Pan Masala brand called Kamla Pasand for their advertisement.

What is India’s position on tobacco in the media?

India has legislation as well as regulatory guidelines to control tobacco sales. While the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertising and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act 2003prohibits the advertising and regulates the distribution of tobacco, the ASCI (Advertising Standards Council of India) code prohibits direct and indirect references to these products.

However, in practice, the situation seems much more complicated. Many believe that the alcohol and tobacco lobbies have a great influence on governments, not only at home but around the world, and that is why we have collectively failed to nip this problem in the bud. .

Does Alternative Advertising Work?

Surveys and interviews have revealed that over 95% of people can identify banned products being advertised through alternative advertisements. These prove to work better for brands than an outright ban as the public is constantly reminded of their presence.


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