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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Ministry of Health's Effort to Regulate Tobacco Use in Movies in India, 2005-6

  • Author(s): Polansky, Jonathan
  • Glantz, Stanton A., Ph.D.
  • et al.

Bans on traditional tobacco advertising highlight the strongly promotional role of tobacco imagery in films and video programs. On World No-Tobacco Day 2005, less than a year after India implemented its universal ban on tobacco advertising, its Minister of Health and Family Welfare announced a ban on tobacco imagery in the nation’s films and broadcast programs.

Opposition, including from the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, which quickly announced the proposed ban was unworkable and advocated entertainment industry self-regulation, succeeded in delaying limits for on-screen tobacco for more than a year despite NGO advocacy efforts.

Elements of a policy compromise disclosed in June 2006 risk undermining the Ministry of Health’s intention: permanently to reduce adolescent exposure to tobacco imagery of major benefit the tobacco industry, particularly as Philip Morris International enters the Indian market to expand the market for premium cigarettes and battle for share British American Tobacco’s Indian affiliate, ITC.

Recommendations for an effective policy in India’s constitutional and policy environment include:

• In place of the subjective terminology favored by the tobacco industry and its film industry proxies around the world, a categorical standard of zero tobacco imagery except for (a) portrayals of actual historical figures documented to have used tobacco and (b) the unambiguous depiction of the dire health consequences of tobacco use, with no brand display in any case;

• An independent review committee, with no conflicts of interest, mandated to safeguard the public health by transparently applying the policy standards to the relatively few media productions that propose to include tobacco imagery despite the new policy;

• Identical treatment for films imported from overseas and Indian films released before the policy, namely strong anti-tobacco spots vetted by experts in tobacco prevention showing before and after the film or program in any and all distribution channels;

• Public certification, under penalty of perjury, by credited producers of any Indian film or video program with tobacco imagery released after the policy and all imported films and video programs with tobacco imagery that no one associated with the production accepted any consideration to include tobacco.

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