Much is argued about the ethics of Surrogate Advertising, whether cigarette packs should have pictorial representations of the effects etc etc. In the beginning, the topic really did enthuse me and I got involved to the extent that my final thesis in Post Graduation was on ‘Surrogate Advertising’. I was vehemently against any sort of promotion of something that is so obviously harmful to us. The fact that an alcohol company could legitimize an airline business which was started off to promote it’s alcohol brand in the first place is just one of the examples of the extent to which companies go today. The laws are all confusing and hardly ever enforced so they get away with the loopholes.
So where does this leave my argument? Nowhere, to be exact. The reason Surrogate Advertising exists and flourishes is because the products are allowed to be manufactured, distributed and sold but not promoted. This double standard has it’s basis in economics. The Indian tobacco industry India is the second largest producer of tobacco in the world after China. According to a recent report of the Economics of Tobacco Use (ETU), sponsored by the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the tobacco industry today stands at Rs.70,000 crore and around Rs.10,000 crore as export earnings. In addition, tobacco provides employment to over four million people. The tobacco lobby in India is one of the strongest. And these are only statistics for tobacco, alcohol is yet another story.
So it’s quite obvious why the government will not even think about hindering the production of these industries. And then also comes the entire ethical question of ‘free will’. The citizens of India should be allowed to make their own decisions and choose whether they want to smoke or not.
The problem, I feel, is in the simple human belief of ‘These are just statistics, it wont happen to me’. They believe that perhaps the research reports and data they see are just heresay…after all, they know so many people who smoked and lived to see their old age.
So for all of you who think like that, here are some thoughts:
Each cigarette contains approximately 4000 chemicals in it. 400 of these substances are toxic- poisonous – and 25 of these on the other hand cause cancer. Within the list are nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, arsenic, acetone, DDT, hydrogen cyanide and ammonia. Eighty percent of lung cancer deaths are effects of smoking, as well as 20% of all deaths related to cancer. One in two lifetime smokers will die from their habit. Tar coats your lungs like soot in a chimney and causes cancer. A 20-a-day smoker breathes in up to a full cup (210 g) of tar in a year. Here’s the clincher - if you know four people who smoke, two will die because of this habit and one of them between the age of 30 – 60. And if that doesn’t scare you, nothing probably will. At present, however, only 2 percent of adults have quit in India, and often only after falling ill.
So what is my solution? I say, let them advertise. Open the media and allow the companies to try to make these into lifestyle products. But at the same time, the government/ health organizations should go all out in the media and show numbers and exact cases of how this habit is bound to kill you. If the picture of a rotten lung or the thought of you being the cause of your wife having a miscarriage does not deter you, then you really should be given the freedom to make this choice. It is after all, your life!