Big cigarette companies – driven out of the West – have been dumping their wares in India, invariably seducing teens to smoke.
A couple of week ago, I was on my way to Abu Dhabi from Mumbai. I was carrying a few packets of cigarettes in my hand bag for my Indian friend working for the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, when the guy at the security said that I could not carry them on me. So, I threw the cigarettes away.
I was happy in a way, because not only had I never been a smoker, but had for over decade in the past written editorials in The Hindu, where I worked, against cigarettes smoking.
There are no two ways about cigarettes. They are positively harmful. They are killers. In India alone, a million people die each year from diseases caused by smoking or by the use of tobacco in other forms.
Also, big cigarette companies – driven out of the West – have been dumping their wares in India, invariably seducing teens to smoke.
India now has a stringent law against cigarette advertisement, and has banned smoking in public places – though this rule is often flouted.
However, the government does not quite know where to stop. Public service films are shown before the start of a main movie. Then there is a law which requires every smoking scene in a film to be accompanied by a warning against the dangers of tobacco use. The caveat appears at the bottom of the screen every time someone lights a cigarette.
Some well-known Indian directors have been arguing against such distractions in a movie. Recently, the celebrated American helmer, Woody Allen, refused to show his latest, Blue Jasmine, in India if the government were to insist on such warnings inserted in a frame.
The government did not budge. And Allen being Allen refused to let his film screen in India.
And for thousands of Woody Allen fans in India, this came as a major disappointment.
If the government feels that such warnings before the start of or during a movie will stop people from puffing or at least reduce smoking, nothing can be more naïve than this. This is hardly the method to check this evil.
What can be effective is a reduction in the number of shops selling cigarettes. Or better still, completely ban the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products.
This is easier said than done, because there is a huge revenue coming from tobacco sale that goes to the government exchequer. And cigarette alone contributes a major chunk of this income.
Maybe, a good start could be to educate students in schools and colleges about the terrible harm which tobacco use can cause. Big tobacco kept insisting for years that nicotine was not addictive.
Till independent research concluded that nicotine was indeed habit forming. I am sure most Indians do not know this.
By the way, how many viewers actually pay attention to the warning letters as they sail by in a scene? Not many, I would think.
Gautaman Bhaskaran is India Editor of FMT, and Chennai-based author, columnist and movie critic. He may be emailed at[email protected]