Ban of Tobacco Ads by the Government of India

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Case Details:

Case Code : BECG002
Case Length : 8 Pages
Period : 1981 - 2001
Pub. Date : 2001
Teaching Note : Available
Organization : Indian Tobacco Company Philip Morris
Industry : Food, Beverages & Tobacco
Countries : India

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This case study was compiled from published sources, and is intended to be used as a basis for class discussion. It is not intended to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of a management situation. Nor is it a primary information source.

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The Nays'

Those who opposed the ban contended that by putting a ban on advertisements and sponsorships by tobacco companies, the state was effectively stepping in to tell smokers that they were incapable of deciding by themselves what was good or bad for their health and that, therefore it had to play the role of a responsible nanny. Said Amit Sarkar, Editor, Tobacco News9, "Adults who consume tobacco do so of their own free choice. The risk falls entirely on them and is fully explained to them. If we lose sight of this principle, then we lose sight of the truth on which all the free societies depend, namely that freedom and risks are inextricable, and whomsoever assumes the right to save us from risks, is also assuming right to limit our freedom".

The Supreme Court in Canada, held, "The State seeks to control the thought, beliefs and behavior of its citizens along the line it considers acceptable. This form of paternalism is unacceptable in a free and democratic society". Also, if it were legal to manufacture and sell tobacco products, it should be legal to advertise it as well.

Tobacco companies around the world have been vehemently denying that they sell the concept of smoking. They insist that the role of marketing, was merely to assist adults in making an informed brand choice and that advertising merely enhanced the market share of a particular brand. The companies claimed that advertising for a particular brand was most relevant to consumers who already smoked that brand...

The Haze

Tobacco consumption was growing in the developing countries while it was falling in the developed countries. Concerned over the welfare of its citizens, who were fast becoming a prey, the Indian government decided to ban advertising by tobacco companies as a first step towards its goal of discouraging smokers. But the advocates of free choice and the cigarette companies (the worst hit in the tobacco industry when the ban was imposed) insisted that ban was no solution to the problem. 

Said Shunu Sen, CEO, Quadra Advisory, "Excess of anything is bad.Excess of coffee, tea…whatever. Where do we draw the line?" They argued that that the ban was unjustified, as advertisements didn't promote smoking, and that the ban was not the right solution to the problem. The Cigarette companies expressed concern that the ban would deny them level-playing field.

The issues discussed above at best gave an idea of how complex the problem was. This was the crux of the problem.The problem itself seemed so intricate as it questioned the very domain of propriety; both ethical and commercial and the 'ifs and buts' were too hazy and one too many.


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