Media Role Crucial in Fighting Tobacco Use

People Desk
Media Role Crucial in Fighting Tobacco UseMedia Role Crucial in Fighting Tobacco Use

A senior health official has urged the mass media and those involved in cultural development programs to help promote tobacco abstinence among adolescents in the country.

“The scenes of smoking by male and female actors in films over the past two decades has increased compared with the preceding 20 years,” Deputy Health Minister for Social Affairs Seyed Mohammad Hadi Ayyazi said at the ‘Tobacco-Free Living’ festival in Tehran, Borna News Agency reported.

Based on the findings of a study on 300 movies produced in the first three decades after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, smoking doubled in the first 10 years and surged fourfold in the past decade.

“As managers of the national healthcare system, we have a strong conviction that artistic and cultural means can and should be employed to boost health literacy among the general public.”

Protection of health and safety goes hand-in-hand with public security as a core function of the government, he said.

Global studies over the past 10 years have documented the pernicious effect of smoking scenes in films on young people. They also show that compared to adolescents with low exposure to smoking in movies, those with high exposure are about three times as likely to try cigarettes or become smokers.

A study also says the movie-smoking exposure effect on initiation of adolescent smoking is greatest among those considered at lower risk for smoking, such as those whose parents do not smoke. The message is that eliminating smoking scenes in films may prevent a substantial number of adolescents from smoking.

“As per Article 11 of the national healthcare policy, all cultural apparatus including the mass media should play their part in guiding people towards a healthy lifestyle,” Ayyazi stressed.

It could be argued that as the majority of smoking scenes in movies is meant for adults, children and young teenagers might not really have high exposure to tobacco use. However, the available evidence indicates that this age group comprises frequent viewers of movies that are not intended for young audiences in the first place.

  Easy Access

In addition to many children tagging along with their parents to cinema theaters, teenagers find easy access to the world of motion pictures on satellite television, home videos, and DVDs.

The statements of the deputy minister follow the widely popular TV series on the home video network ‘Shahrzad’ coming under heavy criticism recently from Ali Taheri, executive director of the Iranian Anti-Tobacco Association.

In two separate letters to Culture Minister Ali Jannati and the show director Hassan Fathi, he referred to Article 3 in the Iranian Comprehensive National Tobacco Control Law which strictly prohibits any type of direct and indirect tobacco advertising that encourages and stimulates people to smoke cigarettes, ISNA reported.

Shahrzad is a romantic-historical series set around and after the 1953 Iranian coup d’état. The show is licensed by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance and available for online purchase and in DVDs.

“Last December, the tobacco association reacted strongly to the recurrent scenes of smoking in the TV series, apparently to no avail.”

Noting that an effective public health system to promote the nation’s health requires the collaboration of the people and organizations in the public and private sectors, he said, “If the issue is really not a concern for movie makers, public health goals will not be successfully achieved.”

Taheri lamented the lack of punitive measures for violators of the Tobacco Control Law. Several proposals in this regard have been approved by the government, but have yet to take legal effect.

Neighboring Turkey is a good example where direct or indirect advertising or promotion of smoking is strictly banned. Many foreign programs or films that have scenes with characters smoking have them cut or blurred.

But while Turkey has also introduced stringent tobacco tax policies, it has not necessarily reduced use of cigarettes among the youth. According to the World Health Organization, male smoking prevalence in Turkey is higher than in any western European country and among the highest in Central Asia. Cigarette smoking is the highest among younger adult populations; 40% of all those aged 25 through 44 currently smoke.

  Shocking Figures

Although education and guidance on risky behavior and harmful substances must begin at home, the community should also step up efforts to reduce tobacco consumption.

The use of tobacco is the largest (preventable) cause of disease and premature death in Iran. There are more than 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, of which at least 250 are known to be harmful and more than 50 are known to cause cancer.

According to Khosrow Sadeqniat, head of the secretariat of Iran’s Tobacco Control Headquarters, around 65,000 people die of tobacco use in the country annually. Additionally, some 50 billion cigarettes worth $33 million are smoked every year by nearly 10 million people. Further, around 30% of children below five years are exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke.

The tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced, killing around 6 million people a year, says WHO. More than 5 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while more than 600,000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.