Cigarette promotions: Is free always better?

Published: November 26, 2010

Was distributing free cigarettes at a tobacco-company sponsored event a good idea? I don’t think so.

My brother, who is studying in Malaysia, recently went to a tobacco company-sponsored event where free cigarettes were distributed among all those in attendance. He didn’t tell us about it himself; his Facebook did.

Upon questioning, he said it was a promotion whereby two free cigarettes were given out to each individual who showed his identity card and the event pass. Further probing revealed that the crowd mostly comprised young men and women between the ages of 18 and 30.

It is human nature that when something is being offered free of charge, one feels the compulsion to have it. Of course, you could ignore the freebie; it is a matter of personal choice after all. But we do enjoy the feeling of getting something without paying for it. Besides, the youth are ever so ready to be ‘adventurous.’

But was distributing free cigarettes such a good idea? I don’t think so. And I am certain there must have been many participants at the event who, even if they didn’t smoke otherwise, might have been tempted to light up that day. Many might have even decided it’s ‘cool’ – which is how, in my opinion, smokers usually get hooked.

While cigarettes are an obviously controversial freebie, there are other not-so-obvious ones: for instance, the SMS packages provided by telecom companies. I admit to being a subscriber, but I also realise the proliferation of packages has addicted all of us to frantic messaging.

We are all virtually much ‘closer’ now, but have we truly become more social or sociable? Our youth are spending increasingly more time on virtual socialising which could otherwise be constructively spent on their physical and intellectual development. The increasingly grumbling parents are a proof of this phenomenon.

Whatever happened to the maxim with freedom comes responsibility? Shouldn’t youths be able to draw some lines before their parents do it for them?


Faryal Najeeb

A sub-editor on the business pages of The Express Tribune. She has a passion for commerce journalism.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Deen Sheikh

    Wait i am confused, were you trying to lobby against cigarettes or almost free text messaging, free or super cheap sms can be found world wide, they used to be free in the early days of prepaid mobile phones, long before bundles came about.Recommend

  • Emmon Khan

    A thoroughly useless piece of writing. Writing for the sake of writing means waste of time for so many people. So what is the point? Also associating everything bad with every kind of freedom is a sure recipe for a call to Talibnaization and mullayiat….enough of sermonizing from the bland Pakistani ‘writers’!!! Give the youth some break!Recommend

  • Marita

    Not only is it not a good idea, it is questionable whether it is even legal. Malaysia is a signatory to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, an international treaty to reduce the huge disease and death burden caused by tobacco. Under the terms of the treaty, distributing free cigarettes and even tobacco sponsorship of events is banned. Unfortunately tobacco companies find many ways to go under the radar. Please post information about these types of violations to We are monitoring and taking action against these kinds of breaches.Recommend

  • Sana Saleem

    Whenever I attend any party in my family, I see my cousins holding their mobile and messaging through sms. I hardly find someone talking to each other and this has always disturbed me…. The best way to talk to them is through the sms in the same place :)Recommend

  • Talat

    Companies are always on a look out for new ways to promote their products. It is not a new thing. I mean why would a company which makes cigarettes not sponsor such events. Recommend

  • Marita

    @talat: of course tobacco companies will do whatever they can to recruit new smokers, however that doesn’t mean they should be allowed to do it. The usual argument they give is that it is a legal product – yes, it is, but it is also unique in that it is the only product that if used as intended, will prematurely kill about half its users. Governments put restrictions on companies all the time, this is just one example.Recommend

  • Saad Durrani

    Lady Author. You started the blog post in a sensible manner and then you went off.

    Good work. I am all against tricky advertising.Recommend

  • Faiq N

    There are lot of conspiracy theories circulating at how these global MNCs just wish to create addiction. Addiction for everything which they sell …. And then make loads of money out of it. The common target are ofcourse the youth which are very vulnerable.Recommend

  • Khurram Aziz Shah

    The pity is that smokers know that it’s injurious to health but still ………Recommend

  • Omer bin Ishaq

    If you get the idea of how big these tobacco company’s hands really are, they are paying huge amounts to the govt. in taxes. watch a movie ‘Thank you for smoking’.Recommend

  • Ammar

    I work for an international tobacco company and all I can say is that adults are old enough to choose whether they want to smoke or not. I don’t smoke and have refused to light up a cigarette despite being offered many by colleagues and friends. However, I do not endorse such events being held where free cigarettes are handed out and to my knowledge, I haven’t heard of my company offering ‘free’ cigarettes anywhere. Carrying out such promotional campaigns is too risky especially in the presence of stringent regulation and monitoring in place. Recommend

  • Talat

    @marita yes, but what about the warnings on cigarettes packets. We should not pretend that teenagers don’t realize smoking causes diseases. Recommend

  • Mutahir

    Faryal Najeeb,

    Since you’re a writer on Tribune, I expected your source to be relevant. However, quoting your brother who is still in university is not a GOOD source.

    Firstly, its illegal to give out free tobacco. Secondly, its illegal to target schools or universities regardless of the age groups studying in them. Thirdly, the watchdogs would slaughter any company violating the law in Malaysia considering their stringent regulations. Fourthly, tobacco firms are not stupid like you assume them to be. They’re quite smart, trust me.

    So your article’s initial claim is quite baseless and my suggestion to you is to please first establish a credible source of information, then feel free to express your opinion.
    Thanks, hope you appreciate criticism.Recommend