New Delhi, July 18: An investigative report on the functioning of the Philip Morris International, the US based global cigarette firm, revealed that they were taking to veiled advertising and marketing strategies to promote their products among the Indian youth. While this has obviously irked the Health Department officials, the war between these personnel and the cigarette firm continues, even after threats of legal action against the tobacco-product companies.

A report by Reuters revealed that several cigarette companies, including Philip Morris and ITC, have ignored the legal norms which prohibits putting up of advertisements of cigarettes,even on kiosks. However, this investigation by the Reuters journalists revealed that not only these direct advertisements, but these firms were also indulging in veiled advertisements to lure the youth and promote their products.

Among these products, which have been largely advertised and promoted, directly or through hidden strategies, is Philip Morris’s Marlboro. This product, hailed as one of the most sold cigarette, is advertised openly in the vendor stalls and kiosks. But apart from that there have been incidents where Marlboro cigarettes have been distributed free of costs in bars and pubs in several Indian cities.

According to the report, this was a decade old strategy of Morris International’s to promote their product in the United States. Reportedly, in the 1990’s, cigarette firms were involved in sponsoring events in pubs and bars and targeted the youth using give-away. And now, that trend has been in practise in Indian cities.

The report reveals how in an insider strategy presentation of the Morris International firm, they encouraged influencing the youth to use their products, Given that Indian population is as high as 1.3 billion, it is not really unnatural for the firm to eye India as a potential market for smokers, to be precise Marlboro smokers

The report also followed a Tobacco-control officer, SK Arora, who with his team led a war against such advertisements and tactics of the smoke-firms. However, Arora reveals that although the vendors are aware that putting up such advertisements in the kiosks or stalls is illegal, they were lured by the promise of a few extra bucks.

The report revealed that small vendors in New Delhi were promised by  the Indian unit of Philip Morris, an amount of Rs. 500 per month for putting up Marlboro ads. Apart from this, a vendor also claimed in the report that he received free cigarettes worth Rs. 2000 for promoting the products.

While Arora and his team, during the raid issued penalties to a few and warned legal actions against these vendors, the war did not end.

In their veiled strategies of promoting, Marlboro has been known to hire young girls to give-away cigarettes in pubs and bars frequented by young people. The report also revealed how these representatives of Marlboro also use visual aids to show advertisements, while the pubs play these advertisements on large-screens.

ITC and Philip Morris India have been emphasising that their marketing strategy is within the law of the land and they have not violated any. They have taken refuge to one order of the 2003 law which allowed advertising of products at shops. But as a matter of fact, this was disallowed in subsequent rules issued by the Government. In this regard, a director for tobacco control at the Ministry of Health, Amal Pushp was quoted by Reuters saying, “The is no confusion” and stated that all advertisements are illegal, be that be inside or outside the shops.

As for giving away of free cigarettes ate pubs and bars, according to Pushp (as quoted by Reuters), the law is crystal clear in this regard as well. “Section 5 of the country’s tobacco control act, which says: “No person, shall, under a contract or otherwise promote or agree to promote the use or consumption of cigarettes or any other tobacco product.” Pushp said. If found guilty of it, a person can be fined up to 1,000 rupees and sentenced up to two years in prison for a first conviction.

The Philip Morris documents revealed by Reuters state that it considers Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a major influencer and has planned to pre-empt him from taking any strict anti-tobacco measures. This was a plan initiated ahead of the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) treaty meet which was scheduled for November last year.

While the war between the Anti-tobacco authorities and the Tobacco firm continues, with the Philip Morris India considering that Indian cigarette market is still in infancy, efforts of officials like Arora are tested daily when every time they rip a cigarette advertisement, another shows up the next day. This leaves Indian health authorities with a graver question if the laws are not strong enough to curb tobacco and its products, or at least regulate them, in a nation where reportedly, each year 900,000 people die due to tobacco use and such diseases cost the country about 16 billion dollars annually.