Tobacco imagery in entertainment media: evolution of tobacco-free movies and television programmes rules in India

BMJ Glob Health. 2021 Jan;6(1):e003639. doi: 10.1136/bmjgh-2020-003639.


Introduction: Tobacco imagery in films and television increased in India after it ended conventional tobacco advertising in 2004. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) introduced rules to eliminate this tobacco imagery in 2005 which took effect in amended form in 2012. This study presents the enablers and barriers in development and implementation of the regulations to curb tobacco imagery in films and television in India.

Method: We reviewed legislation, evolving regulations, parliamentary questions, judicial decisions, Bollywood trade publications and relevant news articles from 2003 to 2019 and interviewed key informants.

Results: Based on the WHO reports and civil society demands, the MoHFW issued a complete ban on tobacco imagery in movies and television programmes in 2005. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MoIB) joined the film industry in opposing the rules. A filmmaker challenged the rules in court, which ruled that they violated constitutional freedoms. On appeal by MoHFW, the Supreme Court allowed the rules to take effect. Continuing opposition by MoIB and the film industry weakened the rules and delayed implementation until 2012. As of 2020, rather than a ban, all films with tobacco imagery require strong editorial justification, 100 s of antitobacco messages produced by the MoHFW, and a static health warning at the bottom of screen during tobacco imagery display. In 2015, less than 48% of movies had tobacco imagery compared with 89% in 2005.

Conclusions: Although, not a ban, MoHFW, supported by local advocates and WHO, issued regulations that resulted in a substantial drop in on-screen tobacco imagery and increased exposure to antitobacco messages. India's experience informs WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control parties as they develop and implement policies to curb tobacco imagery in entertainment media.

Keywords: prevention strategies; public health; qualitative study.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • India
  • Motion Pictures*
  • Television
  • Tobacco
  • Tobacco Products*