Tuesday, June 27, 2006

How low will tobacco companies go?

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.


  1. Very Timely Article about a Public interest issue. Time and again the Big Tobacco guys have tried to befuddle the gullible and impressionable segment of the society. If you can't convince them then confuse them...

    The Movie "The Insider" dealt with this issue very coherently.

  2. the Low Tobac life campaign is by the Golden Tobaco Company or GTC, makers of the Panama brand of ciggarettes.(This I was told by someone who had worked on the account) GTC is planning a comeback of sorts, this is the teaser/initial campaign.

  3. I guess the horse in front denotes the fast killing high tar cigarettes, the horse behind denotes the slow killing low tar cigarettes.

  4. Great article in view of the public good.

    Now,as far as advertisements are concerned,yes,surrogate advertisements should be a matter of concern.The one's like 'Main aur Mera Bagpiper,club soda(similar to 'Ashwathama maara gaya' in Mahabharat with an added Hathi(elephant) in the end in a feeble voice)

    One more such case,'Its your life,make it large--Royal Stag'--Not sure,what this ad has got to do with making your life so large,may be ,it refers to your big-swollen-eyes state ,which you achieve after being hit by your wife when you get back home,after getting completely drunk :-)

    On a serious note ,there are two kinds of people who could be the target customers of these tobacco companies

    1.The ones already addicted to smoking -- the potential smokers !!(if you guys remember my last comments)

    2. The ones who are not yet addicted to smoking,but could definitely get hooked on to it getting influenced by such enticing ads.
    Disclaimer :-)
    Now ,again,anywhere in my discussion,I am not advocating cigeratte smoking--WARNING(poison remains poisenous,in which form it is taken)---but I am just providing another perspective of such things.


    Now,for category no 2(ie who are not addicted to smoking),such misleading advertisements can really beguile them.

    But,if you seriously consider category no 1(people who are smoking,and who don't want to quit,no matter what)Low-tar cigarettes can prove to be beneficial by NOT harming them as much as a normal cigarette would do--its like giving them an option,of whether to die a slow death(by a low tar cigarette--giving them enough time to decide on their will,and distribute their property equally among their sons and daughters and stuff) or to die a faster death(by smoking a normal cigarette)

    Note :-- They can even exercise the option of a quick death by simply watching out an X-ray of their lungs provided they have a weak heart too !!

  5. that was a food for thought... and somehow i agree with manish (above)

    wrt ad... (horse and smoke!) ... well horse racing is considered as 'manly' and it subtly refers to 'taste of success' than anything else... i am no ad-guy, but that's what i learnt from my mkt classes...

  6. Leaving Public Health interest aside, this is an amazing advertising idea, professionally crafted. I wonder, how the whole tobacco industry came together and sponsered such a strategic plan without directly coming into the picture. I would love to know the advertising agency behind this. (unfortunately, no mention anywhere in the website)...

    A nice, well researched, timely article from Rashmi..

  7. Also,a related article for such surrogate ads


    (Don't get mislead by the name,read the article to find out why this name !!)

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  9. Hi Rashmi,

    I agree with you that cigarette smoking is hazardous.
    But I dont agree fully tht stopping surrogate advertising is a solution to curb it.Ur logic of "the article repeatedly hammers the message that diabetics should quit smoking. By implication, non-diabetics can very well continue." sounds illogical.

    First of all, they are not doing nething illegal.
    If cigarette smoking and consumption of liquor bothered the govt. so much, they cud hv completely banned it.
    Will tht solve the problem? It will not.
    Or the prices cud b increased to such an extent tht they cud beocome unaffordable.But does the sale go down even afer tht.

    Its all becoz of the tax earned by govt on these companies tht they can't touch them.
    Also, being a democratic society, this shud not be done too.

    So, wht is the solution.
    It is to spread right kind of awareness among ppl tht cigarette smoking is harmful.Ppl shud make informed choices, and it applies to choosing to go or not for smoking.

    Surrogate advertising touches a very small section of society.Most of others fail to get the connection.


  10. hey, here's an excerpt from wiki

    An occurrence of the prisoner’s dilemma in real life has occurred in business. When cigarette advertising was legal in the United States, competing cigarette manufacturers had to decide how much money to spend on advertising. The effectiveness of Firm A’s advertising was partially determined by the advertising conducted by Firm B. Likewise, the profit derived from advertising for Firm B is affected by the advertising conducted by Firm A. If both Firm A and Firm B chose to advertise during a given period the advertising cancels out, receipts remain constant, and expenses increase due to the cost of advertising. Both firms would benefit from a reduction in advertising. However, should Firm B choose not to advertise, Firm A could benefit greatly by advertising. A prisoners' dilemma occurs when both Firm A and Firm B have dominant strategies, so the outcome is easy to predict. A dominant strategy is an action that will give the best result no matter what decision the rival firm makes. It is unlikely in a true prisoners' dilemma that Firm A and Firm B will cooperate because there is too much incentive for both sides to "cheat" in order to get their best outcome. It is also true that both sides will end up worse off than if they had cooperated. However, sometimes cooperative behaviours emerge in business situations which are surprisingly beneficial to the masses. For instance, cigarette manufacturers endorsed the creation of laws banning cigarette advertising, understanding that this would reduce costs and increase profits across the industry.

    was it really the cigarette companies which cut down on advertising themselves ? Why are they at it again ?

  11. It is possible that the cigarette manufacturers themselves endorsed the law banning direct ads. A law banning ads would prevent cheating, thus welcome for all the tobacco companies. Also keep in mind that in the US there are the big tobacco lawsuits going on. In any case they had to keep a low profile. Whether ads were banned through legislation was probably irrelevant.

    The US tobacco industry is a mature industry. In India I don't see why any tobacco company would want any laws against ads, forget about cooperating with one another.

  12. The agency that came up with this ad, BEI Confluence

  13. I suppose the next step is to start sending mail bombs to the agency.

    At any rate I didn't see the ads any more ridiculous than the ones that show picture perfect and sculpted (often airbrushed as well) women to sell lingerie to shapeless middle-aged women.

  14. I am the Chairman of an organisation called "Crusade Against Tobacco - a branch of the Neil Charitable Trust'.

    Regarding 'loe-tabac', an FIR was done by my organisation in the Juhu Police station and one person has been arrested.

    Today i.e 7th February, 2008, I am writing another letter to the Juhu Police Station to immediately the Managing Director and the Board of Trustees of the GTC Industries for coming out with the cigarette packet loe-tabac again.

    They are not allowed to write the word 25% less tobacco on the cigarette packet, for that they can be imprisoned.

    Hoping to hear from you,

    (Vincent Nazareth)
    mobile 9821161752


  15. Anonymous9:12 AM

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  16. Anonymous8:40 AM

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  17. Anonymous8:07 AM

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