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According to Godfrey Philips, the Indian subsidiary of Philip Morris that makes Red & White cigarettes, the emphasis of the Red & White bravery awards is “selfless action”. The same phrase could hardly describe the company’s motives for using the name of its cigarette brand instead of its company name for the scheme, whose well funded advertising campaign associates its cigarettes with bravery (see Tobacco Control 2002;11:10–11, 91). With not only the brand’s name but also its distinctive colours used in the awards scheme promotions, and details of the cigarette brand just a click or two away from nauseating descriptions of the scheme on the company’s website, one might have thought the manufacturers would be forced to admit to the connection. Recently, an opportunity arose for a little candour on the subject.
Faced with an all male list of award winners in the state of Maharastra, the Red & White judges added a special award for the highly publicity friendly “Bollywood” film star Preity Zinta. It recognised her bravery in sticking to her original story in a high profile court case in which a central theme of the prosecution was that key figures in Bollywood were linked to organised crime. Her steady testimony was all the more praiseworthy because other witnesses had withdrawn their earlier statements. Zinta claimed to have received threatening calls from the underworld while she was shooting for the film Chori Chori Chupke Chupke in 2000.
Not surprisingly, press reports of the case referred to sinister people who make vast sums of money from, among other things, peddling illegal, addictive drugs, without regard to the devastating effects on the health of those who consume them. Many journalists overlooked the fact that Red & White, even if not illegal, is a cigarette brand, energetically promoted by people who make vast sums of money, etc. But in an interview with The Times of India, it was put to Mr Sanjeev Verma, managing director of Godfrey Phillips, that the Red & White bravery awards were really a means of advertising Red & White cigarettes. Extraordinary as it may seem, he denied that the scheme had any connection with the brand. “The awards are a salute to bravery,” he said. “They have nothing to do with our products.”