Tobacco ads: Celebrities shirk moral responsibility

  • 4 min read
  • Sep 24, 2022

Tobacco ads: Celebrities shirk moral responsibility

Professional ethics consists of a set of values ​​and principles that guide the behavior of professionals about what is right and wrong based on loyalty, responsibility, honesty and respect for the law. Hence, the actions of celebrities to promote harmful practices such as smoking are definitely incompatible with professional ethics that seek the greater social good.

The “smoking zone” has shifted from industrialized countries to developing countries. While eighty percent of the 1.3 billion tobacco users belong to third world countries, India accounts for over one million tobacco-related deaths, accounting for 9.5 percent of all deaths. According to a report by the World Health Organization in 2014, a dire health concern caused by tobacco use is taking a heavy toll on the Indian economy, as about 53 percent of tobacco-related deaths are attributed to non-communicable diseases and 80 The percentage of them is included. Chronic respiratory diseases, cancer, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. Accordingly, it is not surprising that the Indian government is trying to reduce tobacco consumption by 30% by 2025.

At this point, the promotion of smoking by movie celebrities is actually not only depressing, but also immoral, antisocial, if not outright illegal. In a country like India, movie celebrities are often highly followed and imitated by the public. Such followers are often invested in by corporations and big corporations to further their business interests. It is not uncommon for people to imitate the clothing and other styles of movie celebrities in their daily lives. Such parodies reflect the tremendous influence celebrities have on fans. While these celebrities are well within their rights to endorse a brand, the promotion of tobacco use raises moral and social criticism, as society demands minimum moral and social responsibilities from public figures.

Based on this, the general actions of movie celebrities and their actions in promoting tobacco use require ethical scrutiny. These actions to promote something as bad as tobacco, which has negative consequences on human health and social integration, can be evaluated based on different ethical parameters. First, acting within the realm of limited individual freedom (harm principle) can be invoked. According to John Stuart Mill, the utilitarian philosopher, two types of actions are performed by humans: self-regarding action (SRA). and other related actions (ORA). SRA is the one that affects the agent itself. Mill says that to elaborate, an act is not SRA when it directly harms others. However, ORA is that which affects others and therefore invites moral criticism.

This distinction essentially serves as a basis for a broader horizon of individual freedom and also serves as a reason to limit individual freedom by justifying state/state intervention. Government intervention in individual freedom is conditioned by the “harm principle” which states: “The only purpose for which any member of a civilized society can rightly be exercised against his will is to prevent harm to others. His own good, whether physical or moral, is not a sufficient guarantee. This entails that an agent’s morally harmful ORA allows others, including the state, to interfere with individual liberty. Therefore, the government has the right to interfere with the freedom of individuals when it is necessary for the welfare of others/society. However, it is difficult to draw a clear line between SRA and ORA, leading to claims that the two overlap, and tobacco promotion is a good example of this.

Although movie celebrities are free to choose the roles to play, the platform and message they want to convey through this show cannot be ignored. With the clear knowledge that smoking causes incurable diseases and many sufferings, the action of movie actors in promoting smoking definitely affects the common people in various ways and ultimately harms their bodies. Therefore, these other celebrity actions do not meet the conditions that preclude government intervention and are also immoral because they do not maximize the greatest good. While the government is taking great steps in the form of laws to prevent tobacco use, these laws should include strict measures against those who, despite their social status, promote harmful practices such as smoking.

A second ethical issue with tobacco advertising focuses on the act itself. This violates the Universal Ethical Principle of Humanism, which states: “Act so that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in another person, never merely as a means, but always as an end. “

In other words, this principle requires that an agent must act in such a way that the action never uses man as a means to any end. On the contrary, movie celebrities, ignoring their moral responsibility and respect towards other fellow human beings and society, use other human beings, albeit indirectly, for their own interests, that is, wealth accumulation. Accordingly, since these celebrities use others in the form of exploiting the passionate feelings of ordinary people, they cannot fulfill the principle of humanity, and as a result, these celebrities fall into the realm of immorality.

Furthermore, it is necessary to reiterate that noble professions serve the welfare of fellow human beings and society alike. Professional ethics consists of a set of values ​​and principles that guide the behavior of professionals regarding what is right and wrong based on loyalty, responsibility, honesty and respect for the law. Hence, the actions of celebrities to promote harmful practices such as smoking are definitely incompatible with professional ethics because they entail responsibilities to serve the larger social good.

(The author is Ethical Consultant, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru)

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