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All smoke, No fire

January 11, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Emanuel Joute & Manish Sharma

Another year, another plan that’s likely to go up in smoke. According to a report by the Indian Express, the Union Health Ministry has said that the pictorial warnings on tobacco products have not been making the desired impact. So now it seems the Ministry is considering replacing them with new hard-hitting images. These pictures could be of a bent cigarette depicting impotency, a person wearing an oxygen mask, a picture showing mouth cancer and that of a heart affected by smoking. But will this drive home the point?

The initial response to the pictorial warnings, implemented from 31 May 2009, was tepid. And it kind of fizzled out in due course. The ministry said that the chest X-ray image that currently adorns cigarette packs was perceived by many as a “man wearing a black coat” and not “affected lungs”. And it’s business as usual for the many roadside cigarette vendors. Similarly, the ban on smoking public places that was enforced during the tenure of ex-health minister A. Ramadoss has little or no meaning now. Many pubs/cafes/bars/ restaurants flout the rule, with no policing in place. Even otherwise, smokers can be seen puffing their dose of nicotine at places they find deem fit.

If the government is hell bent on taming the sales of tobacco, it should have stricter policies and not fly-by-night ideas. Its attempt to ban smoking on screen has not produced the desired results. Even the ban on surrogate advertising did not seem to work. Liquor moghul Vijay Mallya has very cleverly named his outfit as ‘Royal Challengers’, thus extracting every ounce of mileage for the liquor brand that was earlier owned by Shaw Wallace but now falls under the ambit of Bangalore baron. The ‘Red & White’ bravery awards too strengthen the positioning of the brand further. The company that enjoys monopoly in the cigarette market also runs a clothing brand to exploit the lifestyle theme for its tobacco entity more than a meaningful brand extension tactic.

In short, if the government really thinks of banning the sale of tobacco products than nothing short of an actual ‘ban’ can work, ever. By posting an ugly image, the government might assist though unknowingly in boosting the sale.

Cigarette smoking is an addiction rather than a habit. And, like any addiction, kink plays a greater role in satiating the urge. A smoker may be smoking more out of a desire to belong to a cult rather than the need to inhale tobacco. Thus, the ‘herd mentality’ to belong to a particular tribe to present a particular image to one’s own self works behind the seemingly simple exercise of lighting a cigarette. Any pictorial representation indicating a heart affected by smoking might actually work the opposite ways and trigger the stimuli for smoking as people resort to smoking as an anti-depressant too. Moreover, human behaviour works on a ‘wishful thinking’ theory whereby most human beings tend to display overconfidence in their own abilities on most occasions. Thus, they are able to distance themselves from the object like ugly warnings of a mouth infested with cancer or a bent cigarette indicating impotency and make their mind believe that this may never happen to them.

The government needs to come up with some ‘out of the box’ ideas to dissuade people from smoking. This may include among other things a steep tax on retailers or may be even abandoning the sale in a packet altogether, thereby making it inconvenience for smokers to easily access their quota at one particular time. Else, any flaccid plan would just be another one of those “bent” attempts.

  1. Dechen
    January 11, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    how is retailing with higher taxes an out of the box idea lol?!

    and seriously….u think single stick sales would stop anyone…india in fact happens to be a country where single stick sales happens as opposed to other places where an entire pack is bought.

    last….why does the govt hate smoking so much? why cant they stop fourteenth century tempos from running on highways? or build underpasses for pedestrians? or stop the sale of spurious liquor? i have a feeling ramadoss is a closet smoker! ;p

    • Manish
      January 12, 2010 at 11:31 am

      Point taken! Steep tax is not an’out-of-the-box’ idea but then when no other option work for the government this is the last resort available to the establishments!

  2. Zeph
    January 11, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    Smokers will smoke. no matter what pictures they put on the packs. A picture can hardly satisfy a nicotine craving 😀

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