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Anti-tobacco messages work if shown properly on TV and films, says study

The government-backed study titled ‘Evaluation of Tobacco Free Film and Television Policy in India’ said there is an urgent need for better implementation and enforcement of the ‘Film Rule’ across all media

BestMediaInfo Bureau | Mumbai | February 13, 2017


Anti-tobacco messages with warnings about its ill-effects in television and films, if properly implemented, are effective in countering use of the product that kills a million Indians every year, even prompting decisions to quit, said a study conducted under the guidance of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India.

The study titled ‘Evaluation of Tobacco Free Film and Television Policy in India’ was conducted to evaluate the implementation of the ‘Film Rule’, under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA). The study also said that though the messages are effective, there is an urgent need for better implementation and enforcement of the rule across all media.

The study was conducted by Vital Strategies with support from WHO Country Office for India, under the guidance of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

India’s film and TV industry, because of its size and popularity, has the power to influence the behaviour and attitudes of millions of people. During the study period, 22 per cent of TV programmes were found to depict tobacco. Worryingly, 71 per cent of these programmes were broadcast when children and adolescents may have been watching. Implementation of the Film Rule on TV was found to be very low. Only four per cent of these programmes implemented at least two of the three elements of the rules and none carried both of the government-approved anti-tobacco spots (‘Child’ and ‘Dhuan’). Static health messages were most likely to be shown, but these were also not implemented fully as per rules.

While 99 per cent of films with tobacco scenes implemented at least one of the three elements of the Film Rule, only 27 per cent implemented all three elements fully. Despite the inconsistent implementation of the rule, exit interviews with audiences indicated positive results. Around half of those who recalled any tobacco warning message agreed it was easy to understand and made them stop and think. Around 30 per cent said the messages had made them more likely to quit.

According to CK Mishra, Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, “Tobacco use is detrimental to all aspects of life, and grips users in the most productive years. We must reverse this tide. An effective way of tobacco control would be to ingrain and indoctrinate the young minds, the children and the youth. If they could be weaned away from tobacco use, we believe that the battle is half won, since the children and youth of today will be the policy and law makers of tomorrow.”

According to Dr Henk Bekedam, WHO Representative to India, “The film fraternity has played an extremely positive and a vital role in implementing the tobacco-free film and television policy. India has pioneered this policy and it would not have been possible without the support of the film and television industry. Our actors are ‘role models’ who can, and do impact behaviour, especially of youth. I would request them to join this movement against tobacco and help save precious lives.”

Nandita Murukutla, Country Director, Vital Strategies concluded, “The tobacco industry spends billions of dollars to mislead consumers by depicting tobacco use as glamorous or popular. When tobacco is depicted in films and TV programmes, it’s doing the tobacco industry’s work for them. Tobacco kills one million Indians every year and costs our economy $22.4 billion. Our objective in this study is to understand the importance of the Film Rule and the current gap in implementation. We urge the TV and film industry to recognise its responsibilities and work towards a tobacco-free culture.”

For the record, the Film Rule was implemented on October 2, 2012, and mandates that three forms of warning messages (anti-tobacco health spots, audio-visual disclaimers and static health warning messages) are broadcast when tobacco products, branding or use are shown in films and television programmes. Researchers observed and coded over 413 hours of randomly selected TV programming across 45 channels and interviewed 3,080 people to inform the findings in this report. One of the main recommendations of the report was to organise a consultation with national stakeholders, to agree a way forward to strengthen the implementation of the Film Rule, particularly in television programmes, and to identify the most effective administrative channels to ensure the smooth and streamlined implementation of all the key elements. As a sign of the stakeholders’ commitment to this policy recommendation, a consultation was held in Mumbai.

As per the Global Adult Tobacco Survey, India (GATS) conducted by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, 35 per cent of the adults in the age group of 15 years and above consume tobacco in some form or the other, with 48 per cent males and 20 per cent females consuming tobacco in any form. Nearly two in five (38 per cent) adults in rural areas and one in four (25 per cent) adults in urban areas use tobacco in some form.

Smokeless tobacco is the most-used form of tobacco in India with lower socioeconomic groups and women in particular preferring smokeless tobacco over smoking forms. GATS found that more than 20 crore Indians use smokeless tobacco. Smokeless tobacco includes gutkha, zarda, paan masala, paan with tobacco, and khaini.

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