Films, TV soft target for anti-tobacco drive, says fraternity

Published - February 11, 2017 12:34 am IST

Mumbai: The film and television fraternity has come out strongly against a study that claims laws mandating anti-tobacco messages be displayed during movies and TV programmes is being poorly implemented.

Titled ‘Evaluation of Tobacco-Free Film and Television Policy in India’, the study by Vital Strategies in collaboration with the World Health Organisation was carried out in 16 cities including New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Chandigarh and Jaipur. In all, 308 movie theatres were surveyed and 3,080 patrons were interviewed when they walked out after a show. For TV, the researchers evaluated content between November 20 and December 30, 2015 on more than 446 channels. The study was commissioned by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

The study also said while 99% films and TV shows followed anti-tobacco rules, only 27% implemented all rules while the rest did so in part. For example, the rules stipulate that static messages like ‘smoking kills’ and ‘smoking causes cancer’ should be in black font on a white background, but this is not always the case and the messages are often lost on-screen.

Industry members said films were a soft target, and said societal changes were needed rather than targeting them for not carrying anti-tobacco warnings. “The static disclaimers that come on screen are extremely irritating for the viewers. It also breaks the flow of the content,” Siddharth Roy Kapur, film producer and president, Film and Television Producers Guild of India, said at the release of the study.

Mr. Kapur said anti-tobacco awareness could be done differenty. “If need be, several directors can come together to create small capsules with popular youth icons passing on anti-tobacco messages. These can be aired in theatres instead of impinging on the creativity of filmmakers.” He said an actor smoking on screen is simply playing a character. “We have been made a soft target, a low-hanging fruit when in comes to anti-tobacco warnings.”

Pahlaj Nihalani, chairperson, Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) sought to know why doctors and NGOs were not active in forming a strong anti-tobacco lobby. “Also, why is it that the government is not banning tobacco completely?” he said.

Dr. Nandita Murukutla, Country Director, Vital Strategies, said, “Several studies in the past have shown that these warnings do leave an impact. Therefore, we need a thorough implementation of these rules under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA). We do believe that the film industry is the only way the tobacco industry finds avenues for branding and advertising.”

The study found 22% of TV programmes depict tobacco, of which 71% were broadcast when children and adolescents may have been watching. Only 4% of these programmes implemented at least two of the three elements of the COTPA rules, while none of them carried both government-approved anti-tobacco spots, Child and Dhuan .

Despite inconsistent implementation of the rules, exit interviews with audiences indicated positive results. Nearly half of those who recalled tobacco warning messages agreed it was easy to understand and made them stop and think. Around 30% of these said they were more likely to quit after seeing the messages.

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