Tobacco industry using films to promote cigs in India

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Popular Bollywood actor Shahrukh Khan seen smoking in his latest movie
Popular Bollywood actor Shahrukh Khan seen smoking in latest movie

The tobacco companies are more and more looking on cinema for promoting their products across India and neighboring countries, after tobacco advertisements were banned, according to the World Health Organization.

Lately, the cigarette makers have also been stripped of the sponsorships of social events, like music festivals and athletic meetings, what forced their shift to movie industry, the WHO declared in its report “Smokefree movies: From evidence to action”.

A study of popular movies has demonstrated that tobacco products displays boomed in Bollywood after tobacco ads were prohibited in 2004. According to the study, 76 percent of 395 top-grossing movies depicted smoking. The percentage of smoking scenes involving lead characters grew from 22 reported in 1991 up to 54 in 2002, whereas out of the 110 Hindi films shown in cinemas in 2004-2005, 89 percent contained scenes with tobacco use. The main characters were depicted smoking in 75 percent of these films.

The brand displays were equally used to promote premium cigarette brands owned by British American Tobacco and its main rival, Philip Morris International , which entered the Indian cigarette market when tobacco advertising ban took place.

Resorting to movies to promote tobacco use is a worldwide phenomenon. In the United Kingdom, where most types of tobacco ads are prohibited, Hollywood youth-rated movies contained more than 80 percent of all tobacco scenes in 2001-2006. In Australia, a 2008 survey showed that 70 percent of all films depicted smoking scenes, with 75 percent shown in top-rated movies. In Canada, a study published in 2009, showed that 75 percent of smoking scenes were contained in youth-rated films.

The smoking images contained in movies – depicting particular brand or otherwise – are usually consistent with tobacco usage adverts rather than with the images of the severe health complications related to tobacco consumption, the WHO said. Smoking in movies benefit tobacco companies and lure teenagers into smoking, the report highlights.

Hamish Maxwell, the former chairman of Philip Morris International, had admitted this fact in 1983, according to the WHO report, citing him as recognizing that it was vital to continue to use new opportunities to show tobacco on screen in order to promote smoking and keep it a socially-acceptable habit.

The World Health Organization proposed to give adult rating to all films which contain smoking scenes to reduce their possibility to be seen by minors and influence on them. An exception could be given to movies showing hazardous effects of tobacco consumption, it notes.

Some other facts mentioned in the report:

– Films have been associated with underage smoking in India, Hong Kong, China, Thailand, England, Poland, Germany, Scotland, The Netherlands, Mexico, Italy, and Iceland;

– Scenes depicting main characters consuming tobacco rose from 22 percent reported in 1991 up to 54 percent in 2002.

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