No Comments on Smoking

The Indian Health Minister Ramadoss has asked prominent movie personalities like Shah Rukh Khan (SRK) not to depict smoking in films arguing that it is a bad influence for the youth. Ramadoss cited statistics that claim that 52% of children have their ‘first puff’ due to the influence of movie celebrities. SRK argued — and I agree — that the movie makers’ creative freedom shouldn’t be curtailed. After all, in real life, people do smoke. I read a sarcastic comment by someone who said that the villain should lunge towards the hero not with a knife but with some flowers — as violence on the screen can influence youth. There is no doubt that movies influence the youth who watch them. Then there is also the argument that Japanese movies (especially cartoons) have a lot of violence, but there is not much violence in the Japanese society. Movie makers need their creative freedom, while at the same time the people — especially youth — who watch the movies shouldn’t take up smoking or drinking or indulge in aggressive behavior. How can this be done?

  • At the beginning of some movies, you will see a disclaimer “All the characters depicted in the movie are fictional and they bear no resemblance to persons living or dead …”
  • In some stunt videos, the viewer is warned not to attempt these stunts as they are performed by a trained person.
  • Similarly, the director should display a warning message, at the beginning and end of the movie, such as “Smoking is injurious to health” or even better “Smoking causes cancer”. It will be most effective if the hero — typically it is the males in Indian movies who do the smoking — delivers this warning message.

Celebrities can also be roped in to do public service announcements that describe the dangers of smoking. This is currently being done for vaccinations. SRK, however, wont be a good choice as he is a smoker.

A couple of weeks back, I was flipping through the TV channels and one of the channels was showing a Rajnikant (famous movie star) movie. This movie was over 20 years old. In the scene, Rajnikant’s character was smoking. This was quite common. However, I was pleasantly surprised (even shocked) to see a scrolling banner that proclaimed something to the effect that “Smoking is injurious to health”.

The health minister has also taken up the issue of smoking in public places and also in offices. “If one person is caught smoking, the fine would be Rs 5,000 for the institution, if two persons are caught it would be Rs 10,000 while if three persons are caught it would be Rs 15,000” Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss told reporters.

Ramadoss also wants grisly pictorial warnings on tobacco products but there is lot of opposition.

India has come a long way. In the 70s and 80s, cricket players had Wills (cigarette maker) logo on their apparel. Cigarette advertisements in newspapers, magazine and billboards is a lot less now.

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