Multi-Stakeholder Partners Support the Development of a Research Network for Tobacco Control in India

A multi-disciplinary group of stakeholders including researchers, academia, government representatives from the Ministry of Health, Government of India (MoHFW, GoI), WHO and civil society, convened in a Research Network meeting to deliberate on a recent evidence pool developed around several tobacco control themes and how this evidence can inform future research and action in India.

Multi-disciplinary research network convenes to identify research priorities for tobacco control in India

This two-day Meet in Delhi was inaugurated by dignitaries like, Ms. Preeti Sudan, Former Secretary, MoHFW, GoI; Dr. L Swasticharan, Additional Deputy Director General, Directorate General of Health Services, MoHFW, GoI; Dr. K. Srinath Reddy, President Public Health Foundation of India and; Dr. M Bhaskara Rao, President, HRIDAY and Dr. Monika Arora, Executive Director, HRIDAY. Key researchers presented their research findings from the World Health Organization and several research and academic institutes including HRIDAY, Public Health Foundation of India, Indian Council of Medical Research, PGIMER Chandigarh, NIMHANS, MAMC and associations like the Dental Council of India and the Cardiological Society of India.

As India tries to rebuild and recover from the onslaught of the COVID pandemic, two critical research studies undertaken by HRIDAY shed light on the inter-linkages between COVID and tobacco and vulnerabilities due to increased viewership (tobacco exposure) of online streaming platforms.

These research results have important implications for informing tobacco control in the country and have underscored the importance of a Multi-disciplinary Research Network to consolidate and streamline research; plan dissemination and uptake by multi-sectoral partners; mobilise resources; identify, develop, and implement research priorities to generate evidence and; engage with multiple stakeholders to translate research into action, at the national, sub-national and local levels.

Tobacco use and COVID-19

HRIDAY conducted a study to assess tobacco use behaviours and predictors of quitting, among adult tobacco users during the lockdown. This study strongly highlighted that stringent tobacco control measures implemented by the Government of India, during the lockdown, including restricting access to tobacco products, created a supportive environment for tobacco cessation among users.

Tobacco imagery in Bollywood films and streaming platforms

A study conducted on compliance monitoring of the Indian Tobacco-free Television and Film Rules, on tobacco use imagery in Bollywood has revealed, that since the implementation of the Rules in 2012, there was an overall decrease in tobacco use depiction in films. India is the only country in the world to enforce these stringent measures to curb tobacco use exposure in entertainment Media.

Another study observed a shift in tobacco exposure from films and television to on-demand streaming platforms,which are not currently being regulated under the ambit of the Tobacco-free Television and Film Rules. 70% of the series on these platforms that were popular among adolescents and young adults portrayed tobacco use. Given that Indians were confined to homes which resulted in a skyrocketing increase in consumption of online content, this study also has critical implications to expand the regulatory net of the Tobacco-free Film and TV Rules to OTT platforms for complete enforcement of Section 5 of COTPA.

More details on these studies are appended.

Ms. Preeti Sudan, Former Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, said,“Application of context specific tobacco control research from India to further support the work of the government and public health practioners is critical. A multi-disciplinary research network that will identify research needs and streamline short – mid – and long-term research studies is a welcome step. It is also very important to focus on community-based participatory research so that real evidence from the field, encompassing insights from people, frontline health workers and self-help groups can be integrated into research planning, outcomes and its application for action.”

Dr. K. Srinath Reddy, President, Public Health Foundation of Indiasaid,“COVID-19 has highlighted the need to prevent co-morbidities which convert infection into serious illness. Many of those co-morbidities are linked to tobacco-related diseases. The virus sends a clear message that people must avoid any type of tobacco consumption and use this pandemic to give up the habit if they are already addicted.”

Dr. M. Bhaskara Rao, President, HRIDAYsaid,“This dissemination workshop for the Global Challenges Research Fund: Tobacco Control Capacity Building Programme, a multi-country collaboration having 15 partners across 8 countries is being conducted as a multi-stakeholder engagement meeting over two days. All recent research evidence around COVID and Tobacco use behaviours in India, impact of Tobacco free film rules, Tobacco taxation and Smokeless tobacco use in South Asia under ASTRA program are being disseminated and deliberated today to ensure that robust evidence informs future interventions and actions to strengthen tobacco control in India.”

Dr. Monika Arora, Executive Director: HRIDAY and Professor of Health Promotion at PHFI said,“Our research on COVID and tobacco use, clearly underscored that restricting access and availability and stringent laws prohibiting spitting in public places with huge penalties for violations during COVID lockdown, promoted tobacco cessation among tobacco users in India. In future, we need to step up cessation services like mCessation, Quitline and create wide awareness on benefits of quitting, alongside restricting access of tobacco products, during such pandemics to encourage higher cessation and quit attempts.”

Authors of the study on assessing trends from 2006-2017 on changes in tobacco depictions after implementation of tobacco-free film and TV rules in Bollywood films, “India is the only country in the world enforcing Tobacco Free Film and TV rules and success of these rules is evident in how exposure has declined after these rules have been enforced in 2012. However, New Entertainment Media through Streaming Platforms has created opportunities, where these rules are completely being ignored. Assessment of 10 series popular among youth on OTT revealed that seven out of ten series had tobacco imagery and none were compliant with the Rules. There is an urgent need to regulate tobacco use exposure through these platforms to protect the youth of this country and to ensure we can move in the direction of Tobacco Free Future Generations.”

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