Over 40% ads in Cricket World Cup 2023 promoted smokeless tobacco brands: Study

According to the study conducted by a group of experts from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and Vital Strategies, of the total 41.3% surrogate advertisements of smokeless tobacco (SLT) brands

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New Delhi: Nearly half of the advertisements telecast during the last 17 matches of the Cricket World Cup 2023 were surrogate promotion of smokeless tobacco brands, according to a study that has called for a complete ban on promoting tobacco products in all sports.

According to the study conducted by a group of experts from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and Vital Strategies, of the total 41.3% surrogate advertisements of smokeless tobacco (SLT) brands, 39.9% were telecast during India's matches and 37.8% during matches featuring one or both teams from South Asia (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka).

Cardamom was the main product promoted through such advertisements.

The study that was published in the British Medical Journal in May said, "Two SLT brands, Vimal and Kamla Pasand, contributed to the surrogate SLT advertisements. While the promotion of the Vimal brand was entirely led by prominent Bollywood celebrities, former cricketers led the surrogate advertisements for Kamla Pasand."

The International Cricket Council's (ICC) Men's Cricket World Cup 2023 was hosted by India and officially broadcast on television channel Star Sports. Ten countries (Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, England, India, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa and Sri Lanka) participated in the 46-day tournament, which received over a trillion viewing minutes globally.

The study examined the surrogate SLT brand advertisements during the tournament.

Smokeless tobacco is consumed by more than 35 crore people across 70 countries covering all World Health Organization (WHO) regions. India is a major producer and consumer of SLT products with more than 20 crore adult users and accounts for nearly 80 per cent of the SLT-attributable deaths globally.

The tobacco industry spends half a billion dollars annually on SLT product promotion.

Consistent with Article 13 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), India's Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003 (COTPA) prohibits direct and indirect tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (TAPS). Indirect and direct tobacco product promotion in sports is a tobacco-industry tactic to circumvent the TAPS restrictions.

Five trained researchers collected data during the telecasts of the last 17 world cup matches, with a total streaming time of approximately 126 hours and an average stream time per match of 7:47 hours.

The data was entered into a spreadsheet using Microsoft Excel (V.2010) and analysed. All the advertisements were categorised as surrogate advertising for tobacco products.

The SLT industry primarily targeted matches where one of the five South Asian countries played, reinforcing why this region continues to be the SLT-use hotspot.

In 2023, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) released a list of brand categories, including tobacco, to be prohibited from applying for sponsorship.

In India, section 5 of the COTPA and the Cable Television Network Rules, 1995 clearly prohibit the display of any direct and indirect advertising of tobacco products in film and television. Since September 1, 2023, the prohibition has also been extended to cover OTT (over-the-top) platforms.

"Surrogate advertising of SLT products through international cricket tournaments helps the industry to promote its products in global markets, in violation of FCTC Article 13. National and international cricket and other sports boards should consider imposing a complete prohibition on any kind of direct and indirect brand association of tobacco products in all sports," the study said.