Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Medicine and the Media

Smoke screen: Indian film and television’s anti-tobacco obsession

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 23 August 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f5258
  1. Balaji Ravichandran, journalist, Chennai, India
  1. balaji.ravichandran{at}

Since 2011 under Indian law broadcasts and films that show tobacco use must include health messages as flashing subtitles for the duration of the scene, with announcements before, during, and after. But, asks Balaji Ravichandran, does this deter would-be smokers?

Before 2012 no television channels in India carried health warnings about tobacco. But now, regardless of language or content, every channel, from the most international of broadcasters, such as Fox and HBO, to the most local ones in Tamil or Malayalam, seems saturated with antismoking messages before, during, and after most broadcasts.

Every time a character in a film or television programme smokes, a flashing anti-tobacco warning, such as “Tobacco causes cancer,” pops up on the screen, and remains there for the duration of the scene. For many Bollywood and Hollywood films, this means several antismoking messages each hour. And most English language channels already carry integrated subtitles, leaving precious little screen space left in which to see the film.

At the beginning and end of many films, lengthy infomercials, often in partnership with an antismoking or cancer charity, carry further warnings. Some channels go further and use horrifying images in their advertisements of lungs destroyed by cancer, emphysema, and other diseases.

The reason for this new obsession with the harms of smoking is a federal law passed in November 2011, mandating that all television programmes and films that show even one scene including oral or smoking tobacco use …

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