Anti-tobacco messages in movie theatres prove effective: Study

Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has launched a report on India’s tobacco-free film and television policy


Mumbai: The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India today revealed the findings of a study to evaluate the implementation of the ‘Film Rule’, under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA). The study finds that these messages, when properly implemented, are effective in countering imagery of tobacco with warnings about tobacco’s harms – even prompting decisions to quit. However, there is an urgent need for better implementation and enforcement of the Rule across all media. The study titled ‘Evaluation of Tobacco Free Film and Television Policy in India’ was conducted by Vital Strategies with support from WHO Country Office for India, under the guidance of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

The size and popularity of India’s film and TV industry has the power to influence the behavior and attitudes of millions of people. During the study period, 22 percent of TV programmes were found to depict tobacco. Worryingly, 71 percent 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 4 percent 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 percent of films with tobacco scenes implemented at least one of the three elements of the Film Rule, only 27 percent implemented all three elements fully, in the approved manner. 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 percent said the messages had made them more likely to quit.

According to Mr C K 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.”

Dr 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 recognize its responsibilities and work towards a tobacco-free culture.”