Supporting tobacco control in India through media (Comment)

May 31st, 2011 - 10:29 pm ICT by IANS  

Together with China, India has been the focus of the world’s attention this past decade for its economic potential and the huge opportunities the developed world sees in the Asian giant. But health is one key area where India has a long way to go. And the one time bomb which is ticking away is the menace of tobacco, whose use is taking alarming proportions.

India has the second largest group of smokers in the world after China. Over 120 million Indians smoke and more than one million Indians die every year due to tobacco related illnesses. Almost a third of Indians — 57 percent of men and 11 percent of women — consume some form of tobacco. Many use more than one type of tobacco products.

India ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in February 2004 and has initiated numerous tobacco control measures besides implementing a comprehensive law on smoke-free public places, prohibition of sale of tobacco products to minors, and direct and indirect advertising promotion of tobacco products.

However, given the size of the country, effective enforcement of the law continues to be a mammoth challenge.

Equally tough is the task of developing and implementing effective policies on taxation of tobacco products and industry. Non-cigarette tobacco products account for 85 percent of tobacco consumption in India, but contribute only about 15 percent of tobacco taxes.

In order for tobacco control to be effective in India, it is vital that issues related to tobacco/tobacco control are kept in the public eye, and in the forefront of the minds of policy-makers and law-enforcers.

Effective and accurate reporting of the issue on a regular basis, is key to help achieve this.

To facilitate this, BBC World Service Trust implemented a media training initiative in India with the overarching aim of increasing the quantity and quality of media coverage of tobacco control issues at both state and national levels.

The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids supported project was designed to give media professionals a better understanding of the dangers of tobacco use, so that they are motivated to cover these topics. The initiative was also intended to help policy and decision-makers, and those responsible for enforcing relevant legislation.

Workshops were organized for journalists and NGOs across eight project cities including New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Chennai. Across eight cities, 111 journalists were trained on feature journalism skills interspersed with sessions on tobacco related issues.

Topics such as government and tobacco industry, taxation issues, legal aspects of tobacco control, challenges faced by government in implementing tobacco control law and experiences of NGOs were covered.

While the sessions helped media personnel improve their understanding of the impact of tobacco use and the issues around effective tobacco control, one to one sessions with cancer patients, interactions with guest speakers and field visits motivated them to cover these topics.

A total of 62 NGO officials representing 33 NGOs were trained on media handling skills.

“I have had a couple of journalists calling me after the workshop to better understand what you were speaking,” said Upendra Bhojani of the Indian Institute of Public Health, Bangalore.

The project was expected to make an impact at various levels - policy makers, policy implementers, influencers and the public at large. However, as strategy, we targeted influencers to form and shape the opinion of policy makers, implementers and the general public.

Collaboration of the two influencers - media and NGOs - would result in increase in the quality and quantity of tobacco related issues.

Thus, the reportage produced by the media will generate awareness among the public about the effects of tobacco consumption on health, economy and society; and stimulate a conducive environment for public debate and calls for better accountability and even pressure for policy makers to formulate, strengthen and enforce policies on tobacco control.

(31.05.2011 - The author is project manager, BBC World Services Trust. She can be reached on harpreet.kaur@bbcwst.org)

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