India’s film industry backs tobacco control

Salaam Bombay Foundation/WHO India

India’s film producing fraternity has declared its unequivocal support and commitment to health and tobacco control.

India produces the largest number of films in the world.

WHO recently collaborated with the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MoHFW), Government of India and Salaam Bombay Foundation for a consultation with the entertainment industry on the issue of restrictions on display of tobacco products in films/television and better implementation of the related rules.

“We wanted to reach out to the film industry and bring them on board as partners in our efforts towards a healthy India,” said Ms Shakuntala Gamlin, Joint Secretary in the MoHFW, India.

“Creativity should not be shackled, but the film fraternity should work with the government for social sensitization regarding the tobacco menace,” she added.

Elaborating on the background to this dialogue, Ms Gamlin said that with the Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act (COTPA), 2003 coming into force all forms of advertising (direct, indirect and surrogate), promotion and sponsorship of all types of tobacco products was prohibited.

Consequently, tobacco promotion became increasingly constrained and movies emerged as a major vehicle for promoting smoking and tobacco use. In fact tobacco brand display exploded in the Hindi film industry films after tobacco advertising was banned in all other Indian media in 2004.

Responding to the challenge, the Health Ministry amended the rules under the COTPA in 2005 and 2012 to restrict display of tobacco products and their usage in films/television.

Welcoming the dialogue, Dr Nata Menabde, WHO Representative to India, said, “Globally, India is the first country to implement tobacco free movie/television rules and we commend the government for its efforts. We also believe that the film fraternity can play a very powerful role in bringing about a positive change. It is important that we harness the power of the media to bring about this change.”

Highlighting how smoking in films influences young people’s beliefs, Dr Monika Arora, Director of HRIDAY, a youth -student health action network, shared a study on tobacco use in the Hindi film industry movies, tobacco promotional activities and their association with tobacco use among Indian adolescents.

Illustrating the point, a 26-year old cancer survivor Amit Salian, said, “Trying to ape heroes who smoke cigarettes ruined my life. After losing 28 kilos in two years, I got treatment and I am slowly returning to normalcy. No one should face what I had to.”

Film director and producer Mahesh Bhatt expressed the desire of the film fraternity to be a part of the decision-making process and help propagate the message of tobacco-control through their movies. He was present at the meeting along with Kuldeep Makkar, CEO of Film & Television Producers' Guild of India, leading producer Ramesh Sippy and representatives from a number of TV channels.

Taking the dialogue forward, Mr Bhatt suggested: “There is an urgent need to make scriptwriters more aware of the harmful effects of tobacco as well as the laws governing its portrayal so they are more careful while writing the script.”

In addition, it is proposed to hold sensitisation workshop for song writers and directors.

Devika Chadha, Programme Director of Salaam Bombay Foundation and a key facilitator of the meeting felt that this was an important breakthrough.

"Both the Health Ministry and the film industry now have a greater appreciation of each other’s perspective. This augurs well for the future," she said.