Bollywood blamed for teenage smoking

India’s lavish and gushingly romantic Bollywood movies may be the world’s most watched but they are also, it now appears, bad for your health.

Three out of four films produced by India’s prolific film industry over the past decade show their stars smoking, according to a new World Health Organisation (WHO) survey. Teenagers who watch Bollywood characters smoke are three times as likely to do so themselves.

If young people see one of their idols light up on screen they are 16 times more likely to think positively about smoking, the survey found.

It is the first such study of India’s vast film industry and part of a new international campaign to cut smoking deaths by targeting the world’s film industries. The WHO’s World No-Tobacco Day later this year will focus on how the fashion and film industries glamorise cigarettes.
Similar warnings were issued last year about Hollywood films.

An estimated 3m people die every year from tobacco-related causes, a third of them in India. Although several Indian states have officially banned smoking in public places, enforcement has been difficult.

As in most of the developing world, cigarette companies are given a much freer rein to advertise their products than in the west. The Indian government has said it will legislate later this year to ban smoking in public, the sponsorship of sporting events by tobacco companies and media advertisements of tobacco products.

But Ambika Srivastava, who conducted the WHO research, said the Bollywood film industry had slipped under the proposed controls. “The WHO and countries across the world are looking at bans on tobacco advertising but the [film] industry finds ways of getting around it,” she said.

Bollywood produces 800 films a year which are watched by 15 million people every day. A third of Indian television programming is based on Bollywood movies, which are also widely watched in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The WHO survey found that 76% of the most popular films produced between 1991 and 2002 showed some form of tobacco use. In 72% of cases this was cigarette smoking.

Srivastava found that half of India’s leading stars, including Shahrukh Khan, Vivek Oberoi, Ajay Devgun and Jackie Shroff, had smoked on screen.

“The youth thought it was a very cool thing to do. The implication of that is huge,” she said. “Earlier, only the villains were shown smoking but now there’s a very high percentage of the good guys who also smoke in their films.”

But the film industry in Bombay is unlikely to react well to the survey. Mahesh Bhatt, one of India’s leading film-makers, said tobacco companies, not movie stars, were to blame.

“If you feel the Indian star smoking on screen is responsible for the consumption of tobacco on the streets of India and south Asia, why don’t you go for the jugular and blow off these tobacco manufacturing companies?” he said.

“When crime increases, when rape increases, the easiest people to blame are the movie stars. How long can you blame the virtual world for your real problems?” - Guardian Unlimited Â

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