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Tobacco Use in India – A Growing Health And Economic Problem


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.

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

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% of TV programmes were found to depict tobacco. Worryingly, 71% 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.

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.”

While 99% 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.

Smokeless tobacco is the most-used form of tobacco use 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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The CSR Journal Team