from THE HINDU India
Date:11/05/2008 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/2008/05/11/stories/2008051155081000.htm
If the Health Minister can’t do this, who can?
“I am responsible for the health of the nation”
Tobacco and alcohol together make a perfect recipe for early death
Creativity as an art should be used for improving lives instead of taking them
Healthy criticism and freedom of speech, I always thought, were the strengths of a mature society. As an individual, I have always welcomed criticism – in fact accepted it graciously for it is a participatory process and helps improve performance. But criticism loses credibility when targeted against an individual only because he dares to speak courageously and with conviction against social evils. I have been a victim of this uncalled-for criticism.
My campaigns against tobacco, alcohol, and junk food have drawn flak within the country, although globally the efforts of the Health and Family Welfare Ministry have been appreciated. I have said time and again that 40 per cent of the health problems in India are due to the use of tobacco in its various forms. Tobacco and alcohol together make a perfect recipe for early death. As the Health Minister of a nation of a billion people, I am responsible for their health and well-being. After the ban on advertisements promoting the use of tobacco products and alcohol, there was a huge debate on banning smoking on screen. I sometimes wonder whether asking personalities not to glamorise smoking and drinking was such an unreasonable demand that the entire film industry should be up in arms against me.
Over a million deaths in India occur due to tobacco use and, according to a World Health Organisation (WHO) study, 15 per cent of school children in India use tobacco. Experts also say smoking scenes in movies are more effective than direct forms of tobacco advertisements. Surveys have shown that 52 per cent of youngsters start smoking after being influenced by movies.
It is, therefore, not difficult to imagine the kind of impact smoking in films has on our youth, particularly in the context of more brand visibility of cigarette companies in films. India produces the largest number of movies in the world (900 in 2001). In the 1950s, 30 per cent of films had smoking scenes with the percentage touching 89 in 2004. It is equally important to consider the characters depicted as smokers in the movies. In the 1950s, only villains or the ‘bad guys’ smoked on screen. Now, 76 per cent of the smoking scenes are by heroes and lead characters. Is it unreasonable if at least this influence on our youth could be reduced?
Godfrey Philips Red and White Bravery Awards are given to 10 people for saving 10 lives but, ironically, the tobacco company causes the death of three million people worldwide annually!......