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Smokescreen lifts, ban to kick in
- Information ministry agrees to outlaw tobacco scenes from October 2

New Delhi, June 15: If Shahrukh Khan wants to smoke on screen, he might consider playing Winston Churchill with his signature cigar.

Feluda, however, has definitely lost his Charminar, though Sherlock Holmes may get to keep his pipe.

S. Jaipal Reddy’s information and broadcasting ministry has swallowed its talk of artistic freedom and formally endorsed health minister Anbumani Ramadoss’s ban on smoking in movies and TV serials.

The ban ' the first in the world ' kicks in from October 2, coinciding with the Mahatma’s birthday. So, films released after October 1, or television shows beamed after that date, cannot show anybody taking a puff.

Exceptions can be made only for period movies and those portraying historical characters known to be smokers ' and for films that show someone smoking only to emphasise how bad that is for health.

While telecasting older TV serials, the broadcaster must ensure that a scroll at the bottom of the screen, carrying a health warning, accompanies smoking scenes.

As for older films that might have Shahrukh Khan lighting up or Rajnikant juggling with cigarettes, the theatre owners screening them have the responsibility of informing audiences that smoking causes several deadly diseases. They must figure out for themselves how to do it.

Reddy’s ministry had initially been furious when Ramadoss, without waiting for its opinion, had announced the ban on May 31. But today Reddy gave in to the health minister rather tamely after a 90-minute discussion.

“There are no two views on the need to restrict, deglamourise and discourage smoking,” Reddy told reporters.

What about foreign films or TV shows' The minister indicated that his ministry would announce a set of norms on this when it releases its policy on downlinking.

In case of a live show -- for instance, of a Formula One race -- the ban can obviously not apply. But whenever there is delayed telecast, the scroll must appear with its anti-smoking message.

The two ministers have agreed also on the need to discourage brand-sharing by tobacco companies. For instance, cigarette company ITC has a line of clothing, which it wants to advertise under the same logo.

Again, Rajya Sabha MP Vijay Mallya, whose private airline is also called Kingfisher, flaunts his liquor brand’s logo on the tail of his commercial planes.

Ramadoss wants the information and broadcasting ministry to make sure that makers of tobacco and liquor, both bad for health, are prevented from broadcasting surrogate advertisements.

The ministers, however, agreed on the need for exceptions to this rule and suggested case-by-case reviews. An inter-ministerial review committee will look into these cases, Reddy explained.

The information and broadcasting minister said the penalties for violations will be worked out and announced when the broadcast bill and downlinking regulations are introduced by the government.

Other amendments to the Tobacco Control Act include a ban on the sale of tobacco products by minors. In case of violation, the tobacco company could be punished.

Sale of cigarettes to minors is already illegal.

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