The new legislation banning smoking in offices and public places, that is.
Last evening I went for my evening walk, culminating, as all my evening walks do, at the local Irani cafй, Good Luck. Ordered my tea and was about to light up my cigarette, when a waiter came running up to say that smoking was no longer permitted. This, well ahead of the legal ban which comes into effect on October 2.
I’ve spent a few hundred hours at Good Luck, enjoying a cuppa, a cigarette (a few of both, actually) and a crossword puzzle.
The law has taken away the cigarettes. I wonder if my time spent at Good Luck will come down as a result of this.
As importantly, will there be more people like me?
The ban on smoking in public areas directly affects parts of the economy. Restaurants, bars, discotheques, pubs are the first to be affected.
The operative word is affected. Affected positively or negatively?
When New York first proposed a ban on smoking in restaurants, the cigarette lobby immediately highlighted the potential loss of jobs due to a projected drop in business.
In reality, restaurants did better (and continue to do so). While smokers might have stayed away, non-smokers, who avoided restaurants because of the smoke, the ash and the odour, flocked in droves, discovering new dining options.
Restaurants were happy because of the drop in maintenance costs. No more cigarette burns on the upholstery, no cleaning of ashtrays, no air fresheners to neutralize the smell of cigarettes and cigars.
While Good Luck might lose the custom of a few like me, I suspect the New York experience will hold true in India as well. So the restaurants in India would benefit, rather than lose, from the new legislation.
You may well get ready for the tobacco majors to hit back with alternative communication to ensure that the habit stays alive with smokers like me and keep young non-smokers believing that smoking is cool.
With a complete ban on advertising and sponsorships, there is little room for cigarette brands to push their coolness.
That’s the challenge and the opportunity for advertising agencies and promotion companies – and perhaps an opportunity for assessing abilities in the below-the-line and digital spaces. While, internationally, spectacular work has been done for tobacco, in India we have seen little or nothing that is noteworthy.
There’s another opportunity as well for adland; helping the Union Minister for Health in his attempt to rid India of the menace of cigarettes and other tobacco products. Create pro bono campaigns which increase the awareness of the health dangers of cigarettes and tobacco. Focus on communication targeting youth, focus on the young who do not smoke, because that’s the demographic the tobacco majors will focus on.
Forget about the existing smokers like me. We’re too far gone.
For me, I cannot but admit that what the law is attempting to do will add a few years to my life. But it also takes away a lot from my soul.
Perhaps it will take a lot away from adland’s soul as well. Imagine a Piyush Pandey without a cigarette in his hand.
Half my meetings with adland’s movers and shakers are in ‘non-smoking’ offices, where the mover or shaker I’m meeting has bent the rules and, voila, here’s an ashtray. In most such instances, I get the feeling that my smoking decreases the guilt in the rule-breaking, and mine host is more than happy to light up as well.
These meetings will obviously be things of the past. Look forward, now, to two sets of communication: one, to sell the harmful effects of tobacco and cigarettes, and, two, to make smoking cool.
That’s the beauty of the industry we’re in. We just never lose.