The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Comrade’s public puff

Thiruvananthapuram, Oct. 28: Shah Rukh puffing-in-public Khan has company — and no less than a person like Sitaram Yechury.

If the Bollywood star lit up a legal fire for puffing in public, the Marxist veteran was caught on camera taking one long, last drag before hopping on to a stage on Thursday.

Yechury had come to open a CPM-sponsored discussion on the Sachar committee’s report for uplift of minorities in Kozhikode, north Kerala, when a photographer clicked the Rajya Sabha member.

Yechury may have been tanking up on nicotine before taking the stage, but there is no dearth of smokers in Kerala, if one goes by the swirls of tobacco smoke.

In 1999, Kerala High Court, the first in the country, had banned smoking in public places, which include roads, hospitals and auditoriums. The Supreme Court later upheld the ban.

The impact has been perceptible. While the trend against tobacco is catching up, singer K.J. Yesudas went a step further. He made girls of St Teresa’s College take a vow not to marry a smoker.

Nowadays, one rarely spots a smoker at bus stands, railway stations or cinemas. Police at times look the other way, though they book enough offenders to humour courts, which occasionally ask for reports to assess how effective the ban has been.

But no cop would have dared to warn — let alone book — Yechury for smoking in public. His party, after all, is in power in Kerala.

And the state’s NGOs, perhaps, decided to ignore the puff, unlike anti-tobacco campaigner Note, which sent a legal notice to Shah Rukh for smoking at the recent Twenty20 international in Mumbai and a leadership summit in Delhi.

Another celebrity, superstar Mohan Lal, is also in a spot of bother — not for lighting up but over surrogate liquor ads.

Kottayam-based Mahatma Gandhi National Foundation has asked the actor to apologise for promoting a brand, whose registration the state government has suspended.

“Mohan Lal, a Padmashree recipient, has been promoting Original Choice whisky of a Bangalore-based distillery but has declined our request to desist from doing the surrogate ad in public interest,” said Foundation president Eby J. Jose.

Jose said his organisation has won the first round, with the government suspending the brand’s registration.

The Left-led regime, however, empathises with prisoners addicted to nicotine. In a June 23 order this year, it de-notified jails from the definition of public places.

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