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Bollywood’s veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan on Monday announced his withdrawal from the advertising campaign of pan masala brand Kamla Pasand. The move comes on his 79th birthday, weeks after the national anti-tobacco organisation requested him to refrain from endorsing pan masala as it could help prevent youngsters from getting addicted to tobacco. 

The actor was also trolled on social media for endorsing Kamla Pasand when the ads were released last month. Bachchan initially defended his stance, calling it part and parcel of the entertainment business that provides employment to many. 

 “Kamala Pasand"-- a few days after the commercial was aired, Mr Bachchan contacted the brand and stepped out of it last week. Upon checking why this sudden move -- it was revealed that when Mr Bachchan became associated with the brand, he wasn’t aware that it falls under surrogate advertising. Mr Bachchan has terminated the contract with the brand, has written to them his termination and returned the money received for the promotion," a statement from the actor’s office, released by the public relations firm Universal Communications, said on Monday.  

An email sent to Kamla Pasand remained unanswered till press time.

Released mid-September, the ad is surrogate one mentioning Kamla Pasand "silver coated elaichi". But it drew social media flak almost immediately. First Bachchan responded to some users saying taking up projects helps both artistes and other employees of the entertainment ecosystem. Bachchan features in the ad with actor Ranveer Singh who plays his son.

Surrogate advertising is defined as a form of advertising which is used to promote banned products, like cigarettes\tobacco and alcohol, in the disguise of another product.  

The Code for Self-Regulation of Advertising Content in India by ASCI (The Advertising Standards Council of India) outlines among harmful situations (in advertising), featuring “personalities from the field of sports and entertainment for products which, by law, require a health warning such as “….. is injurious to health" in their advertising or packaging."  

Manisha Kapoor, secretary-General, ASCI said, by law, tobacco advertising is not allowed. “The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003 or COTPA, 2003 is an Act of Parliament of India enacted in 2003 to prohibit advertisement of, and to provide for the regulation of trade and commerce in, and production, supply and distribution of cigarettes and other tobacco products in India. The ASCI code also has clear guidelines in place for advertising of brand extensions of products whose advertising is prohibited by law," Kapoor said, adding that ASCI’s guidelines also state that celebrities should not participate in advertisements of products which by law require a health warning in their ads or packaging. 

Other stars who endorse pan masala brands include Shah Rukh Khan and Ajay Devgn for Vimal Elaichi.  In 2018, Hollywood actor Pierce Brosnan was entangled in a controversy when he was appointed brand ambassador for Pan Bahar, a pan masala brand. He later admitted he was tricked into endorsing a product the company did not disclose was a health hazard. 

Commenting on Bachchan’s walking away from the pan masala brand, an independent ad film director said it was a classic case of ‘celebrity whitewashing.’ “Possibly Amitabh Bachchan feels that since Shah Rukh Khan has drawn so much flak, he should stay in the clear too. Bachchan has always been always a fence sitter and he's doing what he does best," said the person, declining to be named. 

Another film director, however, said possibly Bachchan was promised the ad would turn out a certain way but perhaps didn't. "Maybe he discovered when he saw the ad that he had been misrepresented. This typically it happens a lot that when you shoot for something surrogate," added the Bollywood director.  

The pan masala market in India reached a value of 45,585 crore in 2020. Research firm IMARC Group expects the market to reach a value of 69,518 crore by 2026. 

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