The Indian Health Ministry has for some time now tried to enforce anti-smoking rules to Indian visual media, with the brunt being borne by the movie industry. The Ministry’s point seems to be that people in general, and the youth in particular, look up and learn from Indian movie stars, and watching their heroes smoke on screen encourages them to do the same.
Well, how is that supposed to work? Cinema invariably displays a range of actions and emotions, and not all of it positive. Did the ministry object to Dhoom or Dhoom 2 because it glamorised stealing? What about Bunty Aur Babli, which glamorized fraud? If the youth can make sense of such morals, surely they can also be expected to make sense of the cigarette?
OK, assume for the moment that stealing and fraud are much more taxing on the conscience, and hence are easier to stay away from. Well then, if everyone agrees that smoking has no place is society, just ban the thing!! The government, for all it’s apparent care for the society, will not be able to ban cigarettes, because that would harm the economy. It will not even ban cigarettes in places where it might cause discomfort to others, because again, that will not be a popular decision with the large mass of smokers. Here in the US, most buildings are designated non-smoking zones, and anyone wanting to smoke must step outside, even if it is snowing. Imagine a rule like that being enforced in India!!
For the Indian government, it is always a case of flaunting apparent care for people, rather than doing something practical that would be a step in the right direction. If you want to reduce the influence of cigarettes,
1. Stop the sale of cigarettes in any and every stall on the street. Enforce the ‘No Smoking below 18’ rule for cigarettes. If it can work for alcohol, so can it for cigarettes. Of course, there will be a fraction of people with wrong access, but can you really dream about 100% efficiency?
2. Ban smoking in public places, and public buildings. That takes out a lot of places where people, including the youth, can smoke.
3. Like the US, make it a rule that a large percent of cigarette packaging must include anti-smoking warnings. The US rules make it mandatory that 33% of the package must include statutory warnings.
Some final pointers:
1. Taking care of the youth is the government’s responsibility, not the movie industry’s.
2. What the youth does is its choice, at least allow them that much intelligence.
3. If the youth really learn from its heroes, why can’t the government have people of exceptional character, who can influence them? When the government itself engages in cheap politics rather than spend time over fruitful decisions, how can they direct others to think about the country before themselves?
At least our youth is idolizing movie stars. God help us if our youth start learning from our politicians.