Surrogate advertising is a matter of concern and the Health Ministry has suggested to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to come up with some measures to address the issue, a top official said.

Joint Secretary in the health ministry Vikas Sheel said this in response to a question at the five-day India Tobacco Control Program hosted by the Johns Hopkins University that got underway at South Goa's Majorda, about 30 km from here, on Monday.

Surrogate advertising is used to promote products like alcohol and cigarettes, for which advertisements are prohibited, in the guise of other products.

There are several ostensibly innocuous products which are advertised in print or screen, where the targeted audience are tobacco-users. These are 'proxy' or 'surrogate ads. It is a matter of concern for us (health ministry) and we are working on it, Sheel said.

During a panel discussion on Monday on 'Incorporating Tobacco Control in Non-Communicable Diseases Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS), he also cited examples of a pan masala advertisement, in which a celebrity actor promotes the product, and a CD brand commercial that is a proxy 'promotion' for a liquor brand.

Asked if the health ministry has approached the ministry of information and broadcasting on the issue, he said, yes.

We have been looking for opportunities to raise the issue with them (ministry of I&B). And, we have been suggesting them to come up with some measures to address it, he said.

Chief Medical Officer in the Health Ministry, L Swasticharan, during another session - Challenges and Opportunities for Advancing Tobacco Control in India - flagged the concerns over 'surrogate advertising' wherein companies are getting away with it, just because the product does not have tobacco as an ingredient, but subliminally, it is affecting the audience towards tobacco products.

And celebrities, by lending their face, have made the issue even more difficult to address. So, a famous actress endorses a pan masala ad with a catchy jingle and then another product having a similar name, with tobacco inside, is parallelly marketed. Since tobacco products cannot be advertised in India, these ads become surrogate ads, he said.

As per the second Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS 2) of India released last year, 28.6 per cent use tobacco in one form or the other.

GATS is a global standard for systematically monitoring adult tobacco use and tracking key tobacco control indicators. India is the second largest consumer and third largest producer, of tobacco.

GATS 2 results found a 6 per cent decline in tobacco use prevalence, from (34.6 per cent in) GATS 1 to 28.6 per cent in GATS 2. The decline in prevalence was equivalent to a 17 per cent relative decrease, said Praveen Sinha, National Consultant, WHO Country Office for India at a session today on 'Implementation of the National Tobacco Control Program.

Seema Gupta, Director, Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI), an NGO, said, We approach celebrities to convince them to not advertise products which amount to surrogate ads.