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'Bollywood' Making Smoking Fashionable, says WHO Report - 2003-02-18

A new study commissioned by the World Health Organization accuses Bollywood, India's multi-billion-dollar film industry, of glamorizing smoking and thereby influencing young people to take up the habit.

Bollywood produces 900 films in almost all Indian languages every year. The study looked at 400 recent Indian films and found that tobacco in one form or another was featured in three out of four films.

The author of the study, Ambika Srivastava, said it is not just the bad guys who have the habit. The good guys also smoke.

She said India's most glamorous film stars are seen smoking. And she said that surveys conducted among young people show that they are strongly impressed by what they see on the silver screen. "The study that we have done which is a qualitative study with focus groups clearly does provide insights that teenagers think smoking is hip and cool, and that is the way it is being portrayed in the films. And, they are trying to copy styles, which means that they do get influenced by what they see in the films," Ms. Srivastava said.

India has a population of one billion. Ms. Srivastava said almost 15 million people in India watch a film every day. In addition, she notes, Bollywood's influence stretches across the globe. She said the films attract large audiences in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, the United Kingdom, United States, and Europe.

She said cigarette sales in India account for only 14 percent of the tobacco market. She said this presents a big opportunity for cigarette manufacturers to expand their market, especially among young people.

"Feature films actually account for 30 percent of the television programming, and this programming is beamed across daytime and reaches children less than 15 years old. And, that is why it is quite important that the film industry take notice of what it is doing and also the government takes some action in introducing warnings and, in fact, looking at the portrayal of films that are screened on television," Ms. Srivastava said.

The WHO study said movies with heavy smoking should be given an R rating. This would make them off limits to young people. It said producers should certify they have not been paid for advertising certain brands, and it calls for a ban on sponsorship of film events by tobacco companies.