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Push SMS Text Ad Campaign by BATB

British American Tobacco Bangladesh (BATB) allegedly used unsolicited push messages titled PRICE ALERT to promote its brand Star Cigarette.

The Incident

In July 2018, as the national budget for FY 2018-19 came into effect, A Push- SMS text was sent to random cell phone users of Bangladesh, regardless of their age or gender. The receivers of those text messages read the sender as ‘PRICE ALERT’. The text of the message read, ‘The price for 2 sticks of STAR Cigarette is BDT 11.’ Star Cigarette is a low tier cigarette brand by BATB.

Context and Aftermath

The PRICE ALERT push messages hit the phones immediately after the yearly budget, a period that usually sees a fluctuation in prices of commodities and services as per govt. policies. As a result, it can be assumed that the title PRICE ALERT was used to draw special attention of the phone users. It should be noted that as of May 2020, there is no such text message-based alert system in Bangladesh that notifies the public about prices of essential commodities, following the passage of national budget. It is also unclear how many mobile phone users have received this message.


ProthomAlo, one of the country’s most circulated newspapers, published an article titled, “Mobile SMS Informing About the Price of a Cigarette Brand”. The article termed such push messages as ‘Indirect Advertisements’. While contacted by the reporter, BATB denied any involvement in this push message campaign[i].

Md. Ruhul Quddus, formed coordinator of National Tobacco Control Cell (NTCC), said, ‘I think this as a violation of tobacco control law. This is an indirect advertisement of the product.’

ABM Zubair, Executive Director, PROGGA commented, ‘This is a major cause for concern. Tobacco companies are already hanging posters with the prices of brands at points of sale, violating the law. Such incidents spike before and after the national budget.’

According to the report published in Prothom Alo, in order to send such Value-added service (VAS) messages, the content provider (CP) company must reveal its identity. Concealing the identity is called masking. Masking, such as sending push messages titled only PRICE ALERT without any number, is a punishable offence as per the country’s telecommunication law.

According to the Article 5 (b) of the Smoking and Tobacco Products Usage (Control) (Amendment) Act, 2013,it is a punishable offense to ‘give or propose to give any sample of tobacco products to the public, for the purpose of enticing to buy tobacco products, either free or at a reduced price.’


[i] S. Afrin, Mobile SMS Informing About the Price of a Cigarette Brand, Daily Prothom Alo, 9 September 2018, accessed July 2020  


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