Surrogate advertising is a euphemism for alcohol and tobacco companies advertising using innocuous products sharing the brand name of alcohol and tobacco products, but it looks like they are now using unconventional advertising methods to target children. The Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products Act 2003 (COTP) curtails promotion of tobacco in all forms and there are Supreme Court (SC) ruling that bans cigarette smoking within a certain distance from schools.
Hampered by these laws and rulings, cigarette and alcohol companies cook up fictitious products that share brand names appearing to sell sodas, gold accessories, bottled water, airlines, bravery awards, music, etc. In reality, these products either do not exist or is marginally important to the company. But this mechanism gives them access to television, public events, radio, and billboard advertising and sponsorship.
A recent trend is that chewing tobacco companies are targeting rural children by advertising on kites. Since use of tobacco is higher in rural areas and with most of India living in villages, it appears that the tobacco companies want to safeguard their market and inculcate debilitating habits among the young through subliminal and in-your-face advertising. Kites in colored polythene sheets are flooding rural markets across Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Delhi with chewing tobacco brands. Among products being advertised are different kinds of gutkas (chewing tobacco mixed with nuts), zarda (an intoxicant), and dry snuff.
The advertising on these kites leave no room for doubt listing detailed information about their products, logos, emblems, cost, etc. and invites children to place the "filter pouch under lips and enjoy." The kites being subsidized by the tobacco industry, the cost to children is under a Rupee (USD 2 cents).
NGOs allege that the tobacco companies distribute colored polythene sheets to kite makers free of cost which are then printed over with advertisements and have written to Federal Health Minister Anbumani Ramdoss asking for his intervention. They also say that prevalent incidence of Oral Submucous Fibrosis (a pre-malignant condition restricting the mouth opening resulting in difficulty in chewing solid food) in India among youth may be the due to such advertising. They say that these advertisements violate Section 5 of the COTP Act.
Even though chewing tobacco can cause early tooth decay and loss, affect a person's apetite and capacity to eat solid food, and also cause oral, stomach, and intestinal cancer, north eastern states offer subsidizes to tobacco companies in the mistaken belief that this will bring their population jobs, affluence, and income.
Most alarming is that most of these kites are manufactured in Bareilly, the constituency of United Progressive Alliance Chairperson Sonia Gandhi.