An RTI plea has revealed a worrisome practice. Over 700 BEST buses – about a fourth of the fleet – carry advertisements of tobacco products such as pan masalas.
The advertisements don’t break any rules as such, but a doctor who sought the RTI information feels that BEST advertising could have a bad effect on youngsters.
Said Dr Ravikant Singh, who filed the RTI application with the BEST Undertaking in June 2010, “I used to be alarmed to see BEST buses putting up advertisements of pan masalas. More so, because schoolchildren use these buses frequently.”
“If 700 buses carry these advertisements, it is anybody’s guess how many people see them every day and get influenced.”
According to O P Gupta, general manager of BEST Undertaking, “As BEST has given out three-year contracts to private agencies, we don’t know the exact details of advertisements.” But, he added that only legally permissible advertisements are carried.
The RTI reply from BEST states as much: “Approximately 700 buses displayed advertisements of pan masala, scented supari from January 1 2009 to December 31 2009. No buses displayed gutkha advertisements in the same period. Seven pan masala and scented supari companies displayed their advertisments on BEST buses in the same period.”
So what does the law say about these pan masala advertisements? For one, they cannot be considered illegal. Said Dr Surendra Shastri, who heads the preventive oncology department of Tata Memorial Hospital and is the chairperson of the Smoke-Free Mumbai Campaign, “They can only be classified as surrogate advertisements and though the Tobacco Control Act, 2003, has provisions to ban such advertising the concerned provision has not yet been notified by the Centre.”
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