Advisories and warning messages used in films to dissuade the use of tobacco and its products serve effective “when properly implemented” – a study conducted under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to evaluate the implementation of the ‘Film Rule’ under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act has said.

“The size and popularity of India’s film and TV industry has the power to influence the behaviour and attitudes of millions of people...There is an urgent need for better implementation and enforcement of the rule across all media,” read the study titled ‘Evaluation of Tobacco-Free Film and Television Policy in India’. It was conducted by Vital Strategies with assistance from WHO Country Office for India and published on Friday.

“Our objective in this study is to understand the importance of the ‘Film Rule’ and the current gap in implementation,” said Country Director of Vital Strategies Dr Nandita Murukutla. “The tobacco industry spends billions to mislead consumers by depicting its use as glamorous or popular. When tobacco is depicted in films and TV programmes, it is doing the tobacco industry’s work for them.”

The Film Rule under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act makes it mandatory to include three forms of warning messages – anti-tobacco health spots, audio-visual disclaimers and static health warning messages – whenever tobacco products are shown in films and TV programmes.

While 22% of the TV programmes studied depicted tobacco, only 4% of the shows were found to have implemented two of the three elements of the Film Rule. At least 99% of the films surveyed with tobacco scenes were found to have implemented at least one of the three elements of the Film Rule, and only 27% complied with all three elements. Audiences interviewed indicated that the anti-tobacco messages were easy to understand, while a section of them said it made them consider quitting.

The study involved observing more than 413 hours of randomly selected TV shows across 45 channels and interviews with 3,080 people. The research recommended organising a consultation with national stakeholders to come to a consensus on a way forward to improve the implementation of the Film Rule, which was brought into effect on October 2, 2012.

The ministry’s Global Adult Tobacco Survey – India found that 35% of people in the 15 and above age group consume tobacco in some form; 38% of adults in rural areas and 25% of them in urban areas use tobacco in some form. More than 20 crore Indians were found to prefer smokeless forms of tobacco, which include gutkha, zarda, paan masala, paan with tobacco and khaini.