Surrogate tobacco advertisement: Maharashtra govt seeks trademark info on brand

Tabassum Barnagarwala
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The Surrogate Advertisement (prohibition) Bill, 2016, introduced in Rajya Sabha in 2017, is yet to be passed.

Taking a stern view of surrogate advertisements of flavoured and scented tobacco, both banned in Maharashtra, the state government has written to the Copyright Office of the central government to provide details of Vimal and products the brand is registered for. Officials said they were waiting for its trademark details to understand whether Vimal is registered for “cardamom” or tobacco before pursuing any legal action.

The Maharashtra public health department has sought details of three trademarks- ‘Dane Dane Me Kesar Ka Dum’, Vimal (Hindi logo) and Vimal (English logo) from the Copyright Office.

Officials from health department said the advertisement of Vimal, promoted as a mouth freshener, is being seen as a surrogate advertisement for tobacco products. In one advertisement, Bollywood actor Ajay Devgn promotes Vimal Elaichi of Vishnu & Company Trademarks Pvt Ltd as a “silver-coated elaichi”.

“The Vimal advertisement is showcased as a mouth freshener. We are getting information from the Copyright Office for trademark details. If it is not elaichi, but tobacco that the trademark is registered for, we can take legal action,” an advocate, representing the Maharashtra Directorate of Health Services, said.

Under Section 5 of Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003, tobacco and cigarette advertisement is prohibited. Maharashtra Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned sale and consumption of scented and flavoured tobacco, zarda, khaini, pan masala, and gutkha since 2012.

The letter by the Maharashtra government, which was sent in October, raises concerns on the “severity of health hazards on public health” due to tobacco and the hurdles in the implementation of National Tobacco Control Programme in state.

Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, head and neck oncosurgeon at Tata Memorial Hospital who has been campaigning against tobacco consumption, said with a huge fan following of Bollywood actors and products they promote, the fight against tobacco is getting hindered. “In Maharashtra, all these products are banned. Any form of advertisement is banned,” he said.

With oral cancer accounting for 30 per cent of all cancers in India — as per Globocon Report, 2018 — health officials said surrogate tobacco advertisements may encourage youngsters into picking up chewing habit. India accounts for one-third of total oral cancers in the world.

An email to Vimal’s proprietor Vishnu & Company Trademarks Pvt Ltd yielded no response. Vimal’s few registered trademarks such as Pan Masala, Red, Apna, Jhatka and Signature are registered as “tobacco products and smokers articles”. Its other products such as Elaichi, Kesaria and Gold are registered as agricultural products.

The Surrogate Advertisement (prohibition) Bill, 2016, introduced in Rajya Sabha in 2017, is yet to be passed.

The Bill prohibits advertisement of substitute product in guise of a real one.