A smoking solution

India leads the way in tackling smoking onscreen.

by Jennie Kermode

Last March, the Royal College Of Physicians called for the UK government to get tough on smoking in films. The Scottish government has argued that films featuring smoking might deserve higher certificates. But India is leaving them in the dust.

Smoking is growing in popularity in India as tobacco companies with a declining Western market concentrate their marketing efforts on developing nations. Related illness kills around 900,000 Indians a year, so it's no wonder that the Indian government is taking it seriously. Now its Central Board of Film Certification has introduced stringent new rules to challenge the promotion of cigarettes in the movies.

Old films are exempt, but every time an actor smokes in a new film, a caption must appear warning of the dangers of the habit. The actor must also read out a warning message at the start and in the middle of the film (this is important as a quarter of Indians, mosly women, are illiterate). Finally, all branding on cigarette packets and related materials must be blurred.

Unsurprisingly, the rules have provoked a backlash from the tobacco lobby. There have been allegations of corruption allowing films to flout the rules after passing through some local classification boards. But the changes still seem likely to make an impression in a country where cinema is more popular than anywhere else in the world.

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