How Marlboro Used a Network of Young Smokers to Skirt the Laws Against Tobacco Promotion

17 January 2016

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2015, which amended the Juvenile Justice Act of 2000, was passed in the winter session of the parliament in December 2015, and came into effect on 15 January 2016. The act allows juveniles between the ages of 16 and 18 years, charged with heinous crimes, to be tried as adults. It was passed amidst the public outcry that followed the release of the juvenile accused of the rape of Jyoti Kumar Pandey in 2012, and was widely criticised for being passed in haste.

The act also makes it illegal to serve children any tobacco products, alcohol, narcotic drugs, and psychotropic substances. The amendments make these offenses punishable by upto seven years in jail and a fine of upto one lakh rupees. The new law is the latest addition to many laws that govern tobacco products and their sale in India. Tobacco is one of the most regulated industries in the country, and promotion and advertisement of tobacco products is illegal. The strict laws make it harder for tobacco companies to access the market, putting them perpetually on the lookout for new ways to reach new customers. In this excerpt from her September 2014 story, Smokescreen, Nikita Saxena investigates how Marlboro, an international brand of cigarettes manufactured by the Philip Morris company, skirts the laws by leveraging a network of young smokers to promote their product, and offers these “brand ambassadors” considerable inducements to get their friends and peers to smoke with them.

Marlboro’s youth marketing programme, of which the connectors were a part, is something of an industry secret. It is little covered in the media, even though the workings of the brand and the entire tobacco industry are, at least notionally, open to public scrutiny. The Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Act of 2003 is one of the most comprehensive laws ever enacted by the Indian government to check tobacco consumption. The COTPA prohibits smoking in public places, and the sale of tobacco products to minors; it also mandates, among other things, pictorial warnings on cigarette packs. Arguably its most formidable provision is Section 5, which prohibits almost all advertising or promotion of tobacco products.

Nikita Saxena is a contributing writer at The Caravan.

Keywords: youth ambassadors Juvenile Justice Marlboro Delhi University Smoking