The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Steal a puff, tempt a teen
- WHO report lists dangers of screen smoking

Mumbai, May 30: Bollywood is carcinogenic.

According to a report by the World Health Organisation, three out of four popular Indian films over the last decade show screen idols smoking, encouraging teenagers into the habit.

The recent study, conducted by WHO as part of an international campaign to cut deaths from smoking by targeting film industries, looked at 440 films — Hindi, Tamil and Telugu — between 1991 and 2002.

The survey, for which WHO held discussions with eight focus groups — aged 16-18 in Mumbai and Delhi — found that teenagers watching these films are more likely to do it themselves and more likely to think positively of smoking.

WHO, along with the Cancer Patients Aid Association, the ministry of health and family welfare and a host of Bollywood stars, celebs and the fashion fraternity, will use the study to launch a campaign tomorrow in the city on World No Tobacco Day.

On the occasion, ex-smoker Vivek Oberoi will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with health minister Sushma Swaraj, beseeching his industry and the world to follow his good example.

Vivek is Bollywood’s good boy — he is fast becoming the screen god of all causes, be it bad behaviour of co-stars or film piracy — and he will have others of his tribe like actors Urmila Matondkar, Milind Soman, Raveena Tandon, Sonali Bendre and Jackie Shroff and director Shaad Ali present with him, endorsing the same cause tomorrow. But otherwise, Bollywood stars seem quite happy and careless about destroying their lungs.

The WHO study — which states that 76 per cent of the films surveyed portray tobacco use and 72 per cent show smoking — finds that the heroes have taken more to the puff over the past decade. On-screen smoking among lead actors, according to the report, has increased from 22 per cent in 1991 to 53 per cent in 2002.

It may have something to do with the rise of the dark, brooding kind of hero who has dominated the screen of late — someone like Ajay Devgan in Company — for whom a glowing cigarette is a perfect macho accessory.

The heroes do it most, in fact. The study says 50 per cent of the actors shown smoking are male leads.

It is matched by their behaviour in real life. All the current studs on screen — Shah Rukh Khan, Ajay Devgan, Salman Khan, Sunjay Dutt — are nicotine-friendly. Shah Rukh is a chain smoker. So is Devgan, who, unlike Shah Rukh, even prefers smoking to talking. At a recent news conference, he stepped down from the dais and went outside to stare into nothingness and light one cigarette from the glowing end of another.

Salman and Sunjay also are known for their fondness for smoking, as are Manisha Koirala and Preity Zinta.

Amitabh Bachchan, of course, has done the right thing as always. He doesn’t smoke anymore. Aamir Khan, a former chain smoker, has also given up the habit.

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