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Cigarette warning goes up in smoke over anti-tobacco warnings

PUBLISHED: 19:54 GMT, 2 May 2012 | UPDATED: 19:54 GMT, 2 May 2012

When it comes to public health, the government is a divided house. What the health ministry proposes, the information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry disposes.

This is the case with regard to restricting scenes showing use of tobacco in movies and television serials.

The new rules to restrict smoking scenes, unveiled by the health ministry with much fanfare in November 2011, have been quietly kept in abeyance by the I&B ministry, documents obtained under the RTI Act have revealed. Under pressure from Bollywood, the ministry has asked the censor board to just ignore the new rules.

Description: The producers of Agneepath and Don 2 (left) voluntarily put anti-tobacco warnings

The producers of Agneepath and Don 2 (left) voluntarily put anti-tobacco warnings

The new rules which had come into force on November 14, 2011, had mandated 30-second antitobacco health spots or message to be shown at the beginning and middle of movies and TV programmes which depict tobacco use.

In addition, a scroll of prominent anti-tobacco health warnings will be run at the bottom of the screen during the duration of these scenes.

All new movies with smoking scenes or showing any form of tobacco use will have to give a valid explanation for the scene and will be given U/A certification.

Shah rukh Khan is seen smoking in a scene from the film Don

The rules also made it mandatory for any actor displaying tobacco use in any movie or TV programme to record a 20-second anti-tobacco disclaimer explaining the ill effects of tobacco.

Overruling the health ministry’s notification, the I&B ministry has directed the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) to maintain status quo and adhere to the rules before the notification.

The ministry sent a note to the health ministry on November 29 soon after representatives of the film industry met I&B minister Ambika Soni.

They brought to the minister’s notice the difficulties being faced by them in getting films certified after the notification.

Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni

The note virtually repeated what the film industry wanted. Following the notification, Soni also discussed the issue with health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad over the phone, the note revealed.

‘We are deeply disappointed to learn that the I&B ministry has issued directives to CBFC to defer the implementation of the rules on ground of practical difficulties, overlooking the public health benefits.

‘This stand of the ministry is unfortunate, especially when there can be no difficulty in implementing these rules’, said Bhavna Mukhopadhyay, executive director, Voluntary Health Association of India.

A number of TV programmes such as those on channels like Colors, HBO and Star Movies have already started showing the health warning scrolls or blurring scenes depicting tobacco use.

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From the I&B ministry note, it appears that the ministry has never been in favour of regulating scenes showing smoking and other forms of tobacco use in movies.

In the note, the I&B ministry makes it appear that the health ministry’s decision to come out with a notification to regulate scenes showing use of tobacco in films was taken despite the I&B ministry’s advice to the contrary.

Joint secretary in the I&B ministry D.P. Reddy says in the note they had told the health ministry in writing, expressing difficulties likely to be the faced. This revelation is contrary to what the health ministry had said after notifying the rules in 2011.

It has maintained that the rules were notified after consultation with the I&B ministry. I&B ministry sources said on Wednesday the health ministry had come out with the notification single-handedly and no suggestion of theirs was included.

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