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Ad Campaign Graphically Depicts Harms of Smokeless Tobacco, A Leading Killer in India

Note: World Lung Foundation united with The Union North America. From January 2016, the combined organization is known as “Vital Strategies.”

(New York and Delhi, India) – The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare of India today launched an intensely graphic campaign to reduce illness and deaths from smokeless tobacco, which is used by tens of millions of Indians every day. The ad, called “Mukesh,” was developed by the National Tobacco Control Program in partnership with World Lung Foundation.

Data from the Global Adult Tobacco Survey, released in October 2010, showed that smokeless tobacco, including Khaini, Pan, Gutka and Pan Masala, are the most widely consumed tobacco products in India. Nearly 26% of adults—33% of males and 18% of females—use these products daily.

“Mukesh” features 24 year-old Mukesh Harane, from Maharashtra, who suffers and dies as a result of his chewing addiction. The campaign was produced at Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, where Mukesh was a patient. The ad also documents the horrific trauma tobacco users endure at one of the busiest cancer hospitals in the world.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is spending approx. Rs 5 crores to show the campaign on 20 national TV stations and 45 radio channels across India. A longer and more graphic video about smokeless tobacco, called “Chew on This,” can be viewed online and is being shared through social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube. 

“Mukesh” follows the November 2009 “Surgeon” campaign, which graphically depicted the disfigurement caused by chewing tobaccorelated cancers. A major survey of viewers revealed encouraging results:

  • Sixty percent of people surveyed recalled seeing the “Surgeon” ad with no prompting; when prompted, 75% of people said they had seen the ad.
  • The campaign was persuasive: Seventy-five percent of tobacco users said the campaign made them feel concerned about the effects of smokeless tobacco on their health.
  • Seventy-seven percent of respondents believed the campaign was personally relevant to them and provided new health information.
  • Key messages such as “chewing tobacco causes cancer” were recalled by 62% of respondents.

Dr. Jagdish Kaur, Chief Medical Officer of the National Tobacco Control Program, said, “Very few people understand that smokeless tobacco is killing India’s young people. In this campaign, we see Mukesh, a 24 year-old embodiment of the epidemic, suffering and dying from oral cancer directly linked to his tobacco habit. Our hope is that India’s young adults will see Mukesh’s story, understand the risks of smokeless tobacco, and simply not use these products.”

Dr. Pankaj Chaturvedi, Associate Professor at the Head and Neck Department, Tata Memorial Hospital, said, “Anything containing tobacco and supari (a common ingredient in Gutka, Pan Masla, Khain, and Mawaas) is deadly. Both are addictive, cancer-causing substances that are falsely marketed to our young people as mouth fresheners. It is tragic that as a society we have let our children become targets and we are only now beginning to address the issue.”

Sandra Mullin, Vice President of Policy and Communications, World Lung Foundation, said: “More people in India get oral cancer than anywhere else in the world, and as many as 90% of these cases are caused by smokeless tobacco. This means that smokeless tobacco is contributing to the nearly one million people who die annually in India as a result of their tobacco use. We hope communications programs like this one will help to reverse the epidemic.”