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New Media Campaign Graphically Portrays the Deadly Realities of Chewing Tobacco in India

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

(Delhi, India) – The Ministry of Health & Family Welfare's (MOHFW) Tobacco Control Programme today announced the launch of a nationwide television and radio campaign called “Surgeon.” The campaign features cancer patients at Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital's neck and throat cancer ward and highlights the devastating consequences of smokeless tobacco to warn against its use. The campaign was produced in association with World Lung Foundation (WLF) and the Bloomberg Initiative to reduce Tobacco use.

The campaign television spot shows cancer surgeon Dr. Prashant Pawar as he conducts his rounds in one of the busiest head, neck and throat cancer wards in the world. The viewer sees the horrifying effects of mouth cancers caused by chewing tobacco as the surgeon consults with his patients – some as young as 18 years of age. Tragically, the young man in the TV spot (featured left), who was in the hospital for surgery to remove his voice box, died at home soon after the spot was completed.

Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, Senior Surgeon of Tata Memorial Hospital, said: “One third of children, mostly in rural areas, are addicted to smokeless forms tobacco. Oral cancer affects men most and about half of the cancers in India are from tobacco use alone. If we don't do something to change this now, we will have upon us an oral cancer epidemic of unseen magnitude.”

  • In India, 38% of men and nearly 10% of women consume smokeless forms of tobacco including pan, gutka, pan masala and a number of other smokeless forms.
  • Smokeless tobacco is used in one in three households in rural areas; one in six in urban areas.
  • As a result, India has among the world's highest incidence of oral and pharyngeal cancers.
    (Source: National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3), 2005–06; Current Science, May 2009,

Dr. Jagdish Kaur, Chief Medical Officer said: “Chewing tobacco is more deadly than many chewers realize. Some think chewing is safer than cigarettes or bidis. All are deadly. This campaign graphically depicts the terrible harm to those who chew tobacco. This is why the Government of India has made fighting tobacco use – smoked and smokeless forms – and graphic campaigns like “Surgeon,” a priority. Our message is Tobacco Kills, Quit Today.”

The “Surgeon” ad was message-tested among focus groups of tobacco chewers in a number of regions of India. Results showed high impact among these groups, with many chewers previously not aware of the toxic effects of tobacco chewing. Respondent feedback included: “On seeing the ad there is so much fear in me;” “It's so scary; you can lose your voice and be unable to eat.” Other respondents acknowledged the enormous difficulties in giving up chewing once they were addicted: “I wish l was shown something like this before I got into this habit… I would never have started… now it's difficult to quit.”

“With this campaign, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has taken another great step to bluntly show the ravages caused by tobacco use,” said Sandra Mullin, Senior Vice President of Communications, WLF. “It is through a commitment to airing public education campaigns like these, and to other policies of a comprehensive tobacco control programme, that progress can be made to reverse India's tobacco use epidemic.”

Research has shown that mass media campaigns are one of the most effective means to encourage people to stop smoking. It is one of the World Health Organization's MPOWER (W=Warn about the dangers of tobacco use) strategies to reduce tobacco consumption. MPOWER strategies are endorsed and promoted by the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use, of which WLF is a principal partner.

Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of mortality in the world today, and is responsible for more than five million deaths each year – one in ten adults worldwide. In India, it kills almost one million people each year.

The “Surgeon” TV spot will air nationwide in November across more than 25 national and regional TV channels and in 12 regional languages.