The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Smoke alarm for films, without fire

New Delhi, May 31: Health minister Anbumani Ramadoss today announced a ban on smoking in movies and TV serials from August, but information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry officials suggested it was so much smoke without fire.

Speaking to reporters after inaugurating a workshop to mark World No Tobacco Day, Ramadoss announced amendments to the Tobacco Control Act, introducing a series of measures, including a prohibition against smoking on screen.

As for movies and television shows made before the ban takes effect, they must display a prominent scroll warning against the harmful effects of cigarettes, he said.

But I&B officials maintained Ramadoss had jumped the gun, for their ministry ' the nodal ministry dealing with films and television ' had not endorsed the ban yet. I&B minister S. Jaipal Reddy favours self-regulation on the part of the entertainment industry rather than a ban.

In particular, the ministry is worried that telling producers and directors what they can show on screen and what they can’t could violate artistic freedom.

“We are considering the issue and will take a decision after reviewing all the aspects,” a senior I&B official said. “These decisions cannot be rushed as all aspects have to be considered. The health minister should have consulted us before making a public announcement and setting a deadline.”

Ramadoss also said a high-powered committee is being set up to look into complaints relating to surrogate advertisement by tobacco companies, such as ITC ads on its Wills range of informal clothes.

The committee, made up of MPs, health and I&B ministry officials as well as NGO representatives, will decide whether a product is a stand-alone one or a brand extension. It will also look at the awards being constituted in the name of cigarette brands.

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

The sale of cigarettes to minors is already illegal. From August 1, vending machines will not be allowed to sell cigarettes as they give children easy access to tobacco, Ramadoss told the meeting of health professionals gathered to work towards discouraging smoking.

While the tobacco industry in India is worth Rs 35,000 crore, the government and the private sector have been spending an equal amount towards the treatment of tobacco-related diseases, Ramadoss said.

The minister has promised to support tobacco growers if they wish to switch to medicinal plants required in Indian systems of medicine.

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