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WHO Asks Indian Film Industry to Stop Positive Depictions of Smoking - 2003-05-31

The World Health Organization is asking India's huge film industry to stop depicting images of heroes and heroines smoking cigarettes. The WHO's call was issued on the occasion of "World No Tobacco Day". It says five million people die annually from the use of tobacco products, including hundreds of thousands in South Asia. The World Health Organization says India's film industry has a powerful impact on the young, and not all of it good. The WHO study shows that as film stars light up on the silver screen, they influence many young people to do the same.

WHO calls this is a cause for serious concern given the huge popularity of the Indian film industry, also known as Bollywood. It is the biggest film producer in the world after Hollywood, and its movies reach large audiences in many Asian countries.

WHO's regional director, Than Sein, pointed out that Bollywood stars are icons, not only in India but in neighboring regions as well. Given the outreach of the film industry beyond India and the region, display of smoking and tobacco use in films could influence millions of youth," he said.

The WHO says the tobacco industry is increasingly targeting developing countries to promote its products. They say the industry tries to associate tobacco use with fun, fashion, glamour and success, and films are an obvious vehicle for such a message.

A senior WHO official, Director, Sustainable Development and Healthy Environments Abdul Sattar Yoosuf, said three out of every four of the most popular Indian films surveyed over the past decade showed the stars smoking. "Stars depict the glamour of smoking, and obviously, the psychological, our ego rushes towards wanting to be like somebody else," he said.

The WHO is appealing to the movie industry to make films tobacco-free, especially those targeted at younger audiences.

Leading Indian film producers have questioned the study, saying they do not believe their movies promote smoking. Ambika Srivastava, who conducted the study on Indian cinema, said the idea is not to blame the industry, but to urge it to be more socially responsible. "You cannot blame Bollywood for causing cancer and heart disease and so on, but at least they can help by not promoting a product that does, that kills one of every two regular users," he said.

The WHO is asking Indian movie executives to certify that they have not received tobacco money in return for showing images of heroes and heroines smoking. It says several Indian TV broadcasters have agreed to run health-warning messages when they show films that depict smoking.