‘Smoking’ in films will continue, for now!

The gutkha ban is finally here and, predictably too, being challenged in court. For years, the state on the face of it, has been trying to ban tobacco sale but has only failed. 

The first time the state tried banning gutkha in Maharashtra was around a decade ago and then again in 2008. Both the time, the ban was lifted due to legal hurdles. This time around, the state seems set to implement the ban,at least on the face of things.

 

The New Food Safety and Standard Act was implemented in 2011 to plug the loopholes that proved to weaken the ban during the last two times.With the state sharing public sentiment where health is concerned, they’ve put the ball in the film industry’s court. Movie makers could exercise their discretion to desist from publicising smoking while filming or put up a scroll while screening their works.

A reply to a RTI query in May last revealed the state Information and Broadcast Ministry had asked the Central of Board of Film Certification (CBFC) not to run a scroll with anti-tobacco message while showing smoking scenes in movies.

This came despite the notification that came in effect in November 2011 which made it mandatory for all new movies to display a health warning message at the bottom when a smoking scene comes on.

Notification on hold owing to ‘practical difficulties’

The I&B Ministry has asked the health ministry to keep the notification on hold till the time the “practical difficulties” faced by the film industry is resolved.

Apart from the scroll message at the bottom, there was a compulsory, 30-second anti-tobacco health message to be shown at the beginning and middle of movies and TV programmes which shows tobacco consumption/use, all new movies with smoking scenes or showing any form of tobacco use will have to give a valid explanation for the scene and will be given U/A certification.

Also, the notification made it mandatory for any actor exhibiting tobacco use in any movie or TV programme to record a 20-second anti-tobacco disclaimer explaining the ill effects of tobacco.

But the Information and Broadcasting ministry overruled the health ministry notification stating the “practical problems” that film industry will face due to the notification.

The issue of an anti-smoking ticker during the film and a no-smoking message at the beginning/ end/ interval has had the Health and I&B ministries at loggerheads with the industry giants petitioning the latter that this interfered with their creative independence.

A study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported 52.2 per cent that is more than half of the children in India who had their first smoke “were influenced by use of tobacco in films,” sparking the need for censorship and concurrent legislative caveats on smoking. The study also revealed 76 per cent i.e. more than ¾th of over 1,000 movies shows use of tobacco in them.

In 2011, a first of its kind study in India exposed the link between smoking and Bollywood. The study which has been published in online version of Tobacco Control Journal revealed movies do influence children toward smoking.

The cross-sectional study was conducted among nearly 4,000 students from 12 schools across New Delhi to assess their current and ever tobacco use status, receptivity to tobacco promotions and exposure to tobacco use in movies.

‘The results of the study revealed the odds of tobacco use (using tobacco once or more) among students who were highly exposed to tobacco use occurrences in Bollywood films was more than twice as compared to those with low exposure. Adolescents in this study had seen a mean of 162 tobacco use occurrences from the 59 films that were coded. Results also suggest boys are much more exposed than girls,’ the report suggested.

That the media influences is known but in the absence of legislation to penalise or pull up media or production houses for the ‘socially irresponsible acts,” there’s little hope for any change.

Back in October 2005, the Indian government implemented a ban over showing smoking scenes in movies but the ban was lifted in 2009 after protests from the film fraternity. Few producers and actors cried foul over the ban stating that it infringed their artistic freedom.

China leads the way in banning smoking scenes in films, TV while Bollywood continues to contest over the message scroll showing ill effects of smoking, China, last year, in 2011, went ahead and banned smoking scenes in TV shows and movies screened all across the state. The Chinese State Administration of Radio, Film and Television announced the ban on its official website last year.

The Chinese administration has directed movies and TV series makers “to try to find other forms of artistic expression that don't involve smoking, and to edit smoking scenes, if there are any, to be as short as possible.”

So, while the Chinese had gone ahead and implemented the ban on smoking scenes in movies and serials with immediate effect, India is still struggling to get the Indian film fraternity to put a health message scroll at the bottom while displaying a scene, let alone banning such scenes.

So, despite overwhelming reports suggesting smoking is a major cause of cancer and 42 per cent of all male deaths and 18.3 per cent of all female deaths (which equals to 1,20,000 (84,000 in men and 36,000 in women) deaths) beingtobacco-related cancers, India and her film industry is busy tackling “practical problems” faced by the industry.

For the youth, smoking continues to remain a ‘cool’ thing to do, as fans continue to emulate on-screen personalities and endanger their lives in the bargain.

(Readers keen on seeking help on drafting RTI applications may write in to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call Gajanan Khergamker on 022-22841593 for any assistance on RTI or to have their findings / issue featured here)