'TB Cough' shows tobacco use fueling tuberculosis epidemic

MUMBAI: India has become the first country to launch a national mass media campaign establishing the link between smoking and tuberculosis.

India's ministry of health and family welfare (MoHFW), has launched the world’s first national tobacco control mass media campaign to warn people of the increased risk of tuberculosis (TB) and dying from TB associated with smoking cigarettes or bidis, or being exposed to second-hand smoke.

The campaign is centred on a Public Service Announcement (PSA) entitled “TB-Cough”, which has been developed and implemented with technical support from Vital Strategies.

According to The Tobacco Atlas, nearly a quarter (23.2 percent) of adult males, 3.2 percent of adult females, 5.8 percent of boys and 2.4 percent of girls smoke tobacco in India. In total, more than 2,542,000 children and more than 120,000,000 adults in India use tobacco each day.

“TB Cough,” launched to coincide with this year’s World No Tobacco Day, graphically shows that while a smoker’s cough tells the smoker they have a health problem, a persistent cough over two weeks or more could indicate that problem is TB, as smoking increases the risk of TB and dying from TB. It goes on to show a father smoking and coughing beside his daughter, noting that exposure to second-hand smoke brings the same risks. The PSA ends with the stark warning that “Every bidi cigarette brings you and those around you closer to TB.”

The campaign will be broadcast for a duration of two weeks on all major government and private TV and radio channels, as well as community radio channels, in 17 languages, for pan-India reach.

Vital Strategies president and CEO José Luis Castro commented, “Tobacco-related diseases and TB are socially and economically costly, representing real threats to development in India. Too many lives and livelihoods are being lost due to these health epidemics, so it’s important to show people that they can and should change their behavior to protect themselves and those around them. It’s also important that this campaign shows that bidis, which often escape proper scrutiny, are as harmful as cigarettes in terms of increased risk of TB."

Health experts have long known that tobacco products like cigarettes and bidis are associated with a higher risk of TB and dying from TB – for smokers, people exposed to second-hand smoke, and bidi workers. This is one reason why civil society is advocating for bidis to be included in the highest tax slab of the new GST, along with all other tobacco products.

The 30-second long PSA was rigorously pretested with a target audience who found that “TB Cough” was ‘easy to understand’, ‘believable', ‘made respondents stop and think', and ‘made respondents feel more concerned' about smoking around others. The PSA also made respondents 'feel sympathetic to those with TB', ‘made them feel concerned about symptoms of TB’, ‘made them more likely to visit a doctor if they had TB symptoms,’ and 'increased their confidence to take TB medications if they got sick'. Overall, respondents understood the main message of the PSA and it resonated well with them.

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