Stop The Heartbreak, Stop Smoking

A national tobacco control campaign called ‘Heartbreak’ was launched yesterday (28th July, 2011) in India to warn people about the dangers of bidi smoking. The campaign, developed by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare with support from World Lung Foundation, graphically depicts a bidi smoker suffering a heart attack. It also shows the emotional heartbreak a family suffers when a loved one or the main wage earner dies from smoking. The nationwide campaign will be aired on all major TV and radio channels throughout August, 2011.

The ‘Heartbreak’ campaign’s main message is: ‘Quitting smoking is hard, but the consequence of not quitting is harder’. The rigorously tested campaign ad was found to motivate bidi smokers to quit before they become sick. It assures them that quitting is possible.  Research has shown mass media campaigns are one of the most effective means to prompt people to stop smoking. It is one of the World Health Organization’s M-P-O-W-E-R (W=Warn) strategies to reduce tobacco consumption. M-P-O-W-E-R strategies are endorsed and promoted by the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use, of which the World Lung Foundation is a principal partner.

This campaign against bidi smoking is a welcome and much needed step in the right direction to safeguard citizens from the lethal menace of tobacco usage. While there are various campaigns and awareness drives against cigarette smoking, and even chewing tobacco, no one seems to be mentioning bidis, which apparently is one of the biggest killers in India. Bidi, a hand-rolled leaf cigarette, is the second most highly consumed tobacco product in India, with 70 % of tobacco smoked in the country being in the form of bidis. Nearly 85 per cent of the world's bidi tobacco is grown in India. Smoke from a bidi contains 3 to 5 times the amount of nicotine as a regular cigarette and places users at risk for nicotine addiction.
Bidi smoking has been shown to increase the risk of chronic bronchitis, tuberculosis, and respiratory diseases. Studies in India show that bidi smokers have 5-6 times greater risk of lung cancer than non smokers, as well as high risks of oral cancer. Bidi smoking is associated with a more than threefold increased risk for coronary heart disease and a nearly fourfold increased risk for chronic bronchitis. According to one estimate, bidis kill 6, 00,000 people in India every year.

The low price, wide distribution, and marketing and promotional strategies of bidis contribute to their popularity in India.The biggest consumers, and hence sufferers, are lower-income and rural sections of the population, which are among the most vulnerable. Families suffer additional economic hardships when smoking-related illness occurs to the primary bread-winner. Even those who are engaged in bidi manufacturing (and these are mainly children and women) are exposed to serious occupational hazards. Being constantly exposed to tobacco dust and hazardous
chemicals,they experience exacerbation of tuberculosis, asthma, anaemia, giddiness, postural and eye problems, and gynaecological problems.

Research among bidi and cigarette smokers identified a significant lack of knowledge about the diseases caused by smoking. Testing of the ‘Heartbreak’ ads confirmed that many Indian families do not know smoking is the largest risk factor contributing to heart attacks.
Increasing taxes on bidis, putting easily understandable health warning labels, and having strong media campaigns like ‘Heartbreak’  might discourage their use and save lives.
Sandra Mullin, Senior Vice President, Policy and Communications, World Lung Foundation says, "We are proud to provide support to Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in the production of the ‘Heartbreak’ tobacco control campaign. Too many people suffer from the consequences of bidi use and campaigns like this take on the myth that bidis are not harmful to health. Like cigarettes, bidi kills.  The government’s continued commitment will also help reduce the burden of disease to the health system caused by tobacco.”

Shobha Shukla - CNS(The author is the Editor of Citizen News Service (CNS). She is a J2J Fellow of National Press Foundation (NPF) USA. She is also the Director of CNS Gender Initiative and CNS Diabetes Media Initiative (CNS-DMI). She has worked earlier with State Planning Institute, UP. Email:, website:       

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