India gov’t snuffs out tobacco scenes

Ban to go into effect August 1

NEW DELHI — India used World No Tobacco Day on May 31 to announce a ban on scenes depicting smoking in films and on TV, after an increase in the number of women and youths taking up smoking.

The ban, which will come into effect August 1, will outlaw shots of cigarette packs and advertising hoardings. Foreign movies and serials will have the images electronically blurred.

The ministry of health said that films made before the ban must run health warnings across the bottom of the screen during scenes that show smoking.

India, which accounts for one-sixth of tobacco illnesses worldwide, has ratified a global anti-smoking treaty but is finding it tough to implement laws that ban smoking in public places.

In a country with an estimated 1.3 billion population, half the men use tobacco, while use among women varies between 2% and 21%, depending on the region. Some 2,200 Indians die daily from tobacco-related diseases.

The tough regulations announced by the Indian government caused anger in Bollywood, which often shows macho heroes such as Shah Rukh Khan smoking cigarettes or the cheaper hand-rolled bidis.

Helmer Shyam Benegal echoed many complaints when he told the Times of India that the regulations would interfere with artistic expression.

“The smoking act comes in handy when you want to develop a character,” he said. “The ban does not make sense.”

The World Health Organization, which claims that when a movie star lights a cigarette young fans are three times more likely to do the same, welcomed the ban.

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