The death of Sunita Tomar, 28, who had become the face of India’s anti-tobacco programme, may seem like a setback for the campaign, but studies have proven that mass media campaigns are efficacious interventions for tobacco control in India.
Two studies over the last four years by the World Lung Foundation (WLF) have shown that campaigns like Tomar’s and Mukesh Harane’s — who shared a similar story and fate as Tomar’s — have made tobacco users, who found the stories relevant and informative, stop and think.
The latest study published in the Health Education Research in 2014 looked at the response to television advertisements on the harm of second-hand smoke in India, China and Russia among male smokers and non-smokers. The study said respondents felt the pictures of bodies deformed by cancer were most effective, compared to just warnings or instructions about the harm caused by tobacco.
The study said: “Smokers and non-smokers in all countries consistently rated the strong graphic and health harm ads as the most effective. A graphic ad was at least 1.8 times more likely to receive positive ratings on all four outcomes.”
The second study, which was done exclusively in India on results of mass media campaigns to warn against the dangers of smokeless tobacco consumption, empirically established that the campaign affected smokeless tobacco users as intended.
“Decades of studies from even high income countries have established the impact of mass media campaigns,” said Dr Nandita Murukutla, key authors of the two studies and country director, WLF and director (global) research and evaluation.
The mass media anti-tobacco campaign titled 'Sunita', was launched in August by Union Health Ministry, and was translated into 17 languages. The 30-second Public Service Announcement (PSA), which aired on October 21, was shown for four weeks nationally on all government and private TV and radio channels through the National Tobacco Control Program (NTCP)