Decoding: Why Pierce Brosnan aka James Bond Endorse Indian Tobacco Brand Pan Bahar?

Decoding: Why Pierce Brosnan aka James Bond Endorse Indian Tobacco Brand Pan Bahar?

Why Pierce Brosnan is desperate enough to endorse a Pan Bahar brand? My friend asked after seeing the full page Pan Bahar ad on newspaper. Is he lost the shine in Hollywood or Indian company are capable enough to convince him for this ad?

The choice of pan masala ad from Brosnan might be because of his Bond films gaining a lot of traction in India. Rural folk in India love uncomplicated spy thrillers and action films with fight sequences (A market discovered unintentionally by Mithun Chakraborty)- which is never in short supply from the English movies from US and UK. Most of such English films are dubbed to Hindi and other regional languages for the benefit of the rural audience. The rural men are the prime focus of business for this company.

Pierce Brosnan is not new to the Indian advertising scene as I remember that during his prime in the late 90s, he was endorsing an Indian owned suiting brand- Reid & Taylor. So Indians recognize him despite his declining appeal. Most of the target population might not even know Brosnan by name but can recognize him by face.

The twitterati had a field day trolling both Pan Bahar and Pierce Brosnan but I think the company achieved what it intended to by those adverts- major attention. The shock value of Pierce Brosnan endorsing a pan masala product clearly worked for their brand. Any publicity is good publicity in the tobacco business.

Did I just say tobacco? 

Gutkha is a tobacco and Arecanut containing product meant for chewing. Tobacco chewing in India accounts for India having the highest rates of oral cancer in the world. Among more than 275 million tobacco users, 206 million are non-smoke tobacco users (2012).

Many states in India have banned Gutka manufacturing and sale in the states but Gutka continues to be sold in the black market. Like alcohol and cigarettes, Gutka too is banned from advertising in media channels like TV, movies and print. Hence Gutka manufacturers use the term “Pan Masala” to do surrogate advertising for their similarly named tobacco containing brands. This is much like Kingfisher using their airline and IPL team to do surrogate advertising of their beer brand of the same name.

Despite government measures for curbing tobacco usage and advertising, tobacco still continues to be the major cash inflow for the government in the form of tax revenues.

Then why doesn’t the Indian government ban tobacco products manufacture and sale? Because, evidently, tobacco is a prime cash cow for the Indian government. India is the second-largest producer of tobacco in the world after China. It is also the ninth largest exporter of tobacco and tobacco products in the world. In India, the gutka and pan masala industry size is worth Rs.100 billion. The cigarette industry size separately is equivalent to Rs.220 billion annually. Tobacco contributes approximately 12% to India’s excise revenues. Also, it employs around 60 lakh people. These statistics are peddled around by the Indian government, which officially claims that “Tobacco is a principal cash crop of national importance.” What is conveniently forgotten is the previously mentioned fact that between 700,000 to 10,00,000 Indians die every year due to tobacco use.

So in a Rs. 10, 000 crore industry, Pan Bahar – annual revenue of around Rs. 230 crores- is not short of money and they would have got Pierce Brosnan on board for a good bargain because I can’t remember his last decent movie after the Bond films.* However I do hope the government cracks down on such type of surrogate advertising because the damage being done is quite immense and the message by these celebrities misleading.

Remarkably, Brosnan lost his wife and daughter to ovarian cancer. He has been part of many cancer awareness campaigns in the past. So it is quite surprising to see him endorse carcinogens like this.


Tobacco is not the only carcinogenic ingredient in pan masala. Arecanut or Betel nut as it is called is a key ingredient in Pan Masala and even the regular Paan. Carcinogenic properties of arecanut has been established by reliable studies. One of the review papers is below.


A Review of the Systemic Adverse Effects of Areca Nut or Betel Nut

To skirt the ban on advertising tobacco products in India, the company has not added tobacco in this particular product. Otherwise tobacco is very much part of the usual pan masala and in pan of habitual pan consumers.

There is also the issue of surrogate advertising where the Gutka manufacturers use Pan masala as a front to advertise their tobacco containing products of the same name.

For those commenting here that tobacco products causing cancer is some conspiracy theory- please spare yourself the trouble and continue living in that imagined world called “Denial”.

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