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For a stronger message

Published : Jul 01, 2005 00:00 IST

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Interview with Murli Deora.

In 1999, Member of Parliament Murli Deora filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court asking for restrictions on indiscriminate publicity promoting tobacco and related products. The petition resulted in a series of directions from the court instructing manufacturers to make the statutory warning more visible and placing certain restrictions on cigarette advertising. This was the first such PIL and was the forerunner of many others that ultimately resulted in a series of bans on smoking in public places, in government buildings, in airplanes and so on. Murli Deora spoke to Lyla Bavadam in Mumbai. Excerpts:

Do you support this ban on depicting smoking in films?

Yes, very definitely.Why?

Film is a strong medium. People, especially the youth, are easily influenced by what they see on screen. Why should films depict unsocial and harmful acts?

Are you not overestimating the influence of films?

Not at all. I know of people who started smoking because they had seen it in films. When I was in college Dev Anand's film, "Kaala Pani", was a big hit and my friends not only copied his dressing style and hairstyle; they also copied the cigarette dangling from his mouth. It was a big thing then.

Worldwide smoking has decreased. People are far too health-conscious now to think that a cigarette is fashionable. In this context, do you still think smoking on screen would influence young people?

There is no doubt in my mind.

Mahesh Bhatt said that he finds it insulting that the Ministry of Health issued a diktat thereby presuming that film-makers are not a responsible people. Shouldn't there have been a dialogue about this?

Filmmakers are responsible! Are you trying to tell me that the violence and the rape scenes in our films do not affect the public? This is why we have a Censor Board - to censor what is not good for the community. The Censor Board lets a lot pass as far as violence and rape scenes are concerned. My point is that smoking has been proved to be a dangerous habit. Why promote it in any way? Just as drugs are banned, let us also ban smoking. There is no harm in this.

What about creative expression and the curbing of artistic freedom?

What is artistic or creative about a character smoking?

The ban could easily extend to other aspects of screen life - drinking, a dress code...

Smoking kills and so it should be banned. And that reminds me - the message on cigarette packets should be worded more strongly. What is this "Injurious to Health" nonsense? It should be "Smoking Kills".

Is the government really interested in the effects of smoking on people's lives?

Of course. This ban is an expression of that.

Then why doesn't the government take on the tobacco industry? Increasing excise and prices is hardly an effective measure. If the health of the people is such a big concern of the government, then why not ban cigarettes and tobacco products?

[Silence] No one has asked me this question before. That is true, why should tobacco products not be banned? It would be difficult but not impossible... I'm not against such a ban.

What about the ensuing employment-related issues? It is a huge sector and an outright ban would put thousands out of work.

Alternatives would have to be created before such a ban.

If that is not feasible what about all the surrogate advertising that is happening. Why is that not being tackled? Would you say that a character on screen smoking is more harmful than the Indian cricket team endorsing a cigarette brand on their team uniform?

No, that is equally harmful. It should be stopped.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Jul 01, 2005.)

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