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Since the government ratified the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) last November, Nepal has seen a massive increase in tobacco companies’ promotional activities.
The big cigarette companies - Surya Nepal, a subsidiary of India’s ITC and British American Tobacco, and Seti Cigarette Factory, a subsidiary of Philip Morris—have greatly increased their spending in all national newspapers and weekly, fortnightly and monthly magazines, as well as on large billboards in shopping malls, department stores and in public places. Health advocates estimate the increase in spending to be at least tenfold.
In addition, the companies have been sponsoring musical nights at five-star hotels in the capital, Kathmandu, as well as in Biratnagar, the country’s second largest city, near the Indian border in the south, and in the western city of Pokhara, one of Nepal’s most popular tourist destinations. With names such as Surya Lights Rhythm Nites and Surya Lights Bollywood Temptations: Freedom of Lights Musical Broadway, there is no doubt as to which age groups are being targeted. In addition to promoting its namesake cigarette brand, Surya Nepal has also been sponsoring events in the name of other brands, including Shikhar Lights and Shikhar Filter Kings, including one to exploit the biggest Hindu festival, Shivaratri, celebrating the birth of Lord Shiva, and another clearly aimed at youth and girls.
This huge increase in tobacco promotion may be partly designed to take advantage of the lengthy process of drafting and implementing the new law - local sources say government bureaucracy is notoriously slow. However, another likely explanation is the familiar tactic of the tobacco industry under threat, namely making the news media, hotels and other businesses more dependent on tobacco advertising revenue, to increase pressure for a non-comprehensive tobacco promotion ban. Health advocates have made special representations to the government appealing for swift action and catch-all legislation, and they have even appealed to the companies, but hold out little hope for good news from either.