A long long time ago we went to the movies and saw advertisements where sophisticated people sat around in exclusive villas, admiring art and sipping wine. Or performed difficult and daring stunts for no particular reason.
These were advertisements for cigarettes, and they never championed the product but the lifestyle, the association with glamour (Goldflake) or bravery (Red & White). Then came the ban on advertising in the mass media.
In Oct 2004 I'd done a feature for Businessworld titled 'Smokescreen'. The story was about surrogate advertising strategies adopted by cigarette majors after the ban came into force. Which is probably why this ad in the Sunday Times caught my attention.
"High on life, low on risk... www.lowtobaclife.com".
Yeah right. Open the website and the article right on top is about the health risks of smoking. The rest? Articles on haute couture, gadgets and gizmos, 'basic instincts'.. you get the picture. 'Bon voyage' has a feature on Learjets, ' Bon Vivant' on kinds of sushi and 'Education' on becoming a Cordon Bleu chef
It's the association game all over again. This time the deal is to associate 'low tobacco' with the high life. To give existing smokers a guilt free smoke and a feel good factor.
So why is the ad bothering me? Because it is an effort by the tobacco industry to propogate another falsehood. Read the lead article online carefully - it is an amazing piece of work. It's titled 'Smoking and Diabetes'.
After one para enumerating risks of smoking to all, the article repeatedly hammers the message that diabetics should quit smoking. By implication, non-diabetics can very well continue.
They also manage to bung in this paragraph:
In the West, less hazardous cigarettes [with reduced level of tobacco specific nitrosamines (TSNAs), Carbon Monoxide, Tar, and smoke-based Nicotine] are gaining favour among people who continue to smoke tobacco in spite of knowing its threatening consequences.
Tobacco companies will never give up. Prevented from reaching out to new customers, the least they can do is hang on to existing ones and make them feel 'ok' about managing the risk of smoking.
The message: Quitting is not the only option if you are worried about your health. Switch to "low tobac" ciggies and feel safer. Bullshit.
CNN reports: Low-tar cigarettes do not carry a lower risk of lung cancer, according to the first study comparing lung cancer deaths among smokers of ultra-light, mild and medium filtered cigarettes.
The finding, published this week in the British Medical Journal, proves what experts long suspected.
Previous research has found smokers of "lighter" cigarettes compensate by taking deeper drags, holding the smoke longer and smoking more cigarettes. Scientists suspected they would probably be just as vulnerable to lung cancer and other diseases as those who smoke harsher varieties.
Tobacco companies know this - officially they have no leg to stand on . That is why they are going to such lengths to release this ad anonymously. It is obviously professionally designed, but has no ad agency key number. Even the domain cannot be traced back to them.
'Lowtobaclife.com' is registered in the name of an individual - one Mr Pradeep Kumar in Mayur Vihar phase III Delhi. A mobile number is listed but I've had no luck reaching it so far.
Surely Mr Pradeep Kumar will not release an advertisement in the Times of India costing approx Rs 1.5-2 lakhs for Bombay alone. Several zeros more, if it was in all editions.
Publishers and broadcasters - please note. Surrogate advertising is illegal and should be rejected. Smoking can be a personal choice issue but advertising it in any form is not!
And smokers - continue if you wish to. But be aware that there is no such thing as a 'safe cigarette'.
On a closing note - will someone explain to me what horse racing has to do with 'taste'? This self promo from the website looks so much like the cigarette advertisements of yore that it seems pointless to even pretend otherwise! That's why they didn't dare publish it.. So far at least.