How a world-famous cigarette brand got around India’s restrictions on tobacco advertising

01 September 2014

ON A BREEZY SATURDAY EVENING in June 2011, a 21-year-old man made his way past the upscale farmhouses, historical ruins and monumentally large Hindu temple that mark the landscapes of Mehrauli and Chhatarpur in south Delhi, and arrived at a hotel called the Parkland Retreat. It wasn’t exactly the sort of place anyone would go for a taste of Delhi’s thriving nightlife, but that weekend the young man, a student of animation, would have begged to differ. So would 150 others, most of them students from Delhi and Mumbai, gathered at the hotel for a unique initiation.

The animation student felt a thrill as he entered the hotel. It grew when, as soon as he unlocked his luxurious room, he caught sight of a not-entirely-unexpected gift—a hamper of complimentary cigarettes and Zippo lighters. His excitement increased further over the next couple of days, filled with seminars and celebrations, and culminating in a party that he described, years later, as “a slice of real-life American Pie.”

“We started off with the bartending competition, and the alcohol was on the house, so all of us started drinking right then,” he told me. “By the time the party ‘started,’ most of us were either halfway drunk or completely drunk.” That was just the beginning. “They”—his hosts—“were going around with bottles of Chivas Regal, picking people up and literally choking them with alcohol.”

Nikita Saxena is a contributing writer at The Caravan.

Keywords: Delhi University Marlboro public health Tobacco industry cigarette smoking youth ambassadors