November 13, 2011

Stanton A. Glantz, PhD

India requires anti-smoking spots to accompany smoking movies (and other actions) to reduce movies as tobacco promotions

The Government of India has taken a important step forward today to begin to reduce the use of motion pictures to promote tobacco use by requiring anti-tobacco advertisements to be shown in conjunction with any movie that includes tobacco use, whether it is made in India or not.

This policy represents India’s implementation of the Smoke Free Movies recommendation, endorsed by the World Health Organization, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a wide range of health organizations, that any film including tobacco include anti-tobacco advertisements.

Significantly, this rule is a joint effort of the Ministry and Health and Family Welfare and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.  These efforts inside the Indian government were assisted by the World Health Organization and supported by a broad group of NGOs in India, including the Burning Brain Society, Healis-Sekhsaria Institute for Public Health, the Salaam Bombay Foundation, and HRIDAY-SHAN. (Click here for one example of early media advocacy.)

This regulation was developed after several years of litigation against the Ministry after it issued an initial regulation (in 2005) without consulting with the Ministry of Information and Broadcast.  The new regulation is written to be consistent with subsequent court rulings that established a legitimate government interest in smoking in the movies and established standards for issuing the new regulation.

Here is the new policy, as described in a press release issued by the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on 11-November, 2011 19:45 IST (more comments from me after the release):

New Notification for Movies, TV Programmes Displaying Tobacco Products Comes into Effect from 14.11.2011

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has notified the rules for Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) [second amendment rules] 2011. These rules will be implemented from 14th November, 2011. The rules have been notified after consultation and taking into account the views of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to make is more practical and implementable.

As per the Rules all the old movies and TV programmes i.e. produced before the 14th November displaying tobacco products or its use shall have to mandatorily display:

(a) Anti-tobacco health spots or messages of minimum thirty seconds duration each at the beginning and middle of the film or the television program.

(b) Anti-tobacco health warning as a prominent scroll at the bottom of the screen during the period of such display. And such programs will be telecasted at such timings that are likely to have least viewership of minors.

For new films and TV programme a strong editorial justification for display of tobacco products or their use shall be given to Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) along with UA  certification, and it will be accompanied by the following:

a) A disclaimer, of minimum twenty seconds duration, by the concerned actor regarding the ill effects of the use of such products, in the beginning and middle of the film or television program;

b) Anti-tobacco health spots or messages, of minimum thirty-second duration each at the beginning and middle of the film or the television program;

c) Anti-tobacco health warning as a prominent scroll at the bottom of the screen during the period of such display: There will be a representative of MoHFW in the CBFC.

In order to restrict blatant display of tobacco brands in old films and TV programmes  these rules  make it mandatory to crop /mask display of brands of cigarettes or any other tobacco product or any forms of product placement, closeups  and for new films and TV programs such scenes shall be edited/blurred by the producer prior to screening.

The ban on display of tobacco product or its usage also extends to promotional materials and posters as well.

India has the largest film producing industry and films have played a key role in process of social change and in influencing the Indian culture. Thus, for the tobacco industry, films provide an opportunity to convert a deadly product into a status symbol or token of independence. The role of movies as vehicles for promoting tobacco use has become even more important as other forms of tobacco promotion are constrained. This investment is part of a wider and more complex marketing strategy to support pro-tobacco social norms, including product placement in mass media, sponsorship and other modalities.

There are experimental and observational studies to show that tobacco use  in films influences young people’s beliefs about social norms for smoking, as well as their beliefs about the function and consequences of smoking and their personal intention to use tobacco. Consistent with the findings of these epidemiological studies, a number of experimental studies have confirmed that seeing tobacco usage in film shifts attitude in favour of tobacco use , and that an anti-tobacco advertisement shown prior to a film with tobacco use blunts the effect of smoking imagery.

The Government of India had enacted the Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, in 2003 with the objective to protect the present and future generation from the adverse harm effects of tobacco usage and second hand smoke, through imposing progressive restriction.

As per Section - 5 of the Act, all forms of advertisement (direct, indirect/surrogate) promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products is prohibited. However, it was observed that when the advertising, promotion and sponsorship ban went into force, tobacco companies developed new marketing strategies to circumvent the law through depiction of tobacco use scenes and brand placement of tobacco products in movies.

 In 2003, WHO conducted a study on the portrayal of tobacco in Indian cinema and its impact on youth audience before the passage of the COTPA. Further in 2004 (post COTPA ), a second study titled on “Tobacco In Movies and Impact on Youth” documented changes in Bollywood’s tobacco imagery. This research found the following:

Key Findings                                 WHO study (2003)      Study by Burning Brain Society

                                                                                               supported by WHO/MoH (2005)

Total tobacco containing movies  76%                             89%

Lead character smoking               40.9%                          75.5%

Tobacco brands/product               15.7%                         41.0%
placement and visibility            

The original release is available here.


While this policy is a major step forward, there is more work to be done.  The requirement for a “strong editorial justification” to include smoking or other tobacco use is vague, since “strong editorial justification” is not defined.

In addition, such films would be awarded a “UA” rating, which is defined by the Central Board of Film Certification as “All ages admitted, but certain scenes may be unsuitable for children under 12.”  This rating is similar to the US MPAA's PG-13 and the BBFC's 12A, effectively putting the government’s seal of approval on films that promote smoking to adolescents.  This policy is inconsistent with the recommendation by the WHO, CDC and a wide range of health authorities that films with tobacco use receive an adult content rating (A in India, roughly equivalent to the US R and UK 18).

The fact that the Ministry of Health will have a representative on the Central Board of Film Certification will create an opportunity for continued dialog and monitoring of this issue.

It will be important for both the Ministry and advocates in the NGOs to monitor implementation of this policy carefully, together with its impacts on the presentation of smoking and other tobacco use in films in India.  Hopefully they will produce regular reports to the government and public, similar to those that have been published in the US in the CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report as well as in academic publications and other reports, such as those we have produced through the Smoke Free Movies project.   As the Ministry’s press release noted, the WHO and NGO community in India have already produced several such influential reports as part of the process of getting this policy.

That bodes well for the future.

The full regulations are available here.

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