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How Pierce Brosnan wound up in a tobacco firestorm in India

Actor Pierce Brosnan.

Actor Pierce Brosnan of James Bond fame has found himself at the centre of tobacco-related controversy in India. Health officials in Delhi have sent the actor a show cause notice over the actor’s appearances in advertisements for a brand of pan masala sold by Pan Bahar.

Pan masala

Pan masala is a popular chewing mixture in India. It sometimes contains tobacco. As such, its advertisement is banned under the 2003 Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA).

The pan masala brand Brosnan appeared in commercials for does not contain tobacco. However, some products do contain areca nut or supari which the World Health Organisation (WHO) identifies as a carcinogen.

COTPA forbids indirect as well as direct advertising of tobacco products. Health officials have said they regard the Brosnan ads as promoting a ‘surrogate product’ in a bid to circumvent COTPA advertising regulations. They have warned Brosnan he faces imprisonment or a fine of Rs 5,000 (78 USD) if he does not explain himself.  

The ads in question first appeared eighteen months ago. They were quickly suspended from the air amidst controversy over their content.

‘Unauthorised and deceptive’

Brosnan apologised for the ad at the time. He said he thought he was advertising a mouth freshener and tooth whitener and called the use of his image ‘unauthorised and deceptive’, claiming Pan Bahar manipulated the ads so it seemed Brosnan was endorsing their entire line of products.

The government has cracked down on tobacco advertising in recent months, especially after it emerged last year that tobacco giant Philip Morris International was deliberately targeting young people through an illicit advertising campaign. This drew the ire of doctors, public health officials and policymakers alike.

Pan Bahar denies the accusation of ‘surrogate advertisement.’ They claim they did not mislead Brosnan and insist their products should not be conflated with chewing tobacco as they contain neither tobacco or nicotine.

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