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Recently, Mr. Ramadoss was again in the news. This time, he was requesting (?) Mr. Shahrukh Khan and Mr. Amitabh Bachchan to give up smoking on screen. He was citing the example of Mr. Rajnikanth, who had decided not to smoke on screen. The very next day, Mr. Khan retorted by terming smoking on the screen as ‘Creative Liberty’.

If we further analyze this incident, we would realize that both of these individuals have a point in their argument. While the intention of Mr. Ramadoss is to discourage the public from smoking, his approach for the cause might not be the right one. In India, movies create a huge influence on the masses. The themes covered in the movies are widely discussed in all stratas of the society. The movie stars are always looked up on as icons and role models. Even their personal life is closely followed by the media. People follow each and every step of their favorite star with utmost care and affection. Hence, as far as eradicating problems (?) like smoking is concerned, movie stars could play a pivotal role in helping the administrators. But, will the message be strong if they give up smoking on screen? How many people knew that Rajini gave up smoking on screen for this cause?

That smoking is injurious to health is universally accepted, and eradicating this evil from the society is a mammoth task. The only way out, in my opinion, is to spread awareness about the ill effects of smoking to the youth, and to reduce their exposure to smoking at young age. This is in line with the recent survey by NDTV, which shows that people become habitual smokers during their teenage. As a first step to reduce the exposure of teenagers, government should ban smoking at public places. As a kid, one always would be desperate to try out what other adults do. They will be desperate to graduate to adulthood, and acts like smoking are seen as something really “cool” by these ignorant kids. Recent studies suggest that secondary smokers face equal danger for inhaling the fumes as primary ones. Moreover, there are many people who are allergic to the smoke. Considering all these factors, it is important and essential for government to ban smoking at public places.

The next step that they could take is to ban shops from selling cigarettes to the citizens who are minors. If they can ban sale of liquor to those below 18, why can’t they ban smoking as well?

In the metros, hookahs are a major craze. We can see hookah spots so crowded with youngsters who want to taste the flavored hookah. Kids are also ill informed by the so called cool dudes that hookahs, unlike cigarettes are not harmful to health, and are not addictive. This is a blatant lie. Hookahs also give that “inexplicable” ecstacy that smoking gives you and has trace amounts of nicotine which causes addiction. This is a major route through which the youth in metros get addicted to smoking. I was at a popular hang out in Mumbai last week, and was startled to see high school going kids smoking hookah and when they felt that I was watching them, they tried to act cool. But as I continued staring at them, they felt really uneasy! They are, afterall, kids! Now, hookah is very expensive. Once they run out of their pocket money, they will graduate to cheaper means like smoking. I know at lot of people who have taken up smoking as a result of this hookah addiction. This dude, who is a close friend of mine used to protest like a social activist whenever his dad smoked at home. He used to tell me smoking is the worst habit that a human being could possess. Now this guy is addicted to smoking, thanks to hookah. What should I call him? Hypocrite? Or an ignorant brat? This is where health ministry can come into play. They can strictly ban shops from serving hookah to underage kids.

The next step is the most vital one. Information. How many of the kids are aware of the ill effects of smoking while they take it up? How many know that every 2 out of 3 smokers die due to its ill effects? Information could be used as a major tool while trying to eradicate smoking. Now just sending out pamplets or writing on the cigarette pack won’t help. The message should create an impact on the youth. This is where film stars could be used. As Mr. Khan rightly pointed out, smoking on screen is a part of creative liberty. Not always should you portray ideal heroes. Since smoking is a part of common man’s life, they should show such scenes while enacting such scenes. Not smoking on screen does not conspicuously convey any message against smoking. Instead, film stars can feature in ads showing ill effects of smoking. This will create more impact than anything else. If Rajini works on a campaign to eradicate smoking, it will have more impact than not smoking on screen. It will send a stronger message against smoking than not smoking on screen.

Only a conscious effort can loosen the vice grip of smoking on the youth. I hope the health ministry understands this, and tries seriously to eradicate smoking from the society. They cannot, of course, attain this without the help of parents, who also form a very crucial element in the drive against smoking. Many a times the kids get lured into smoking seeing his or her dad/mom enjoying a puff. Parents who smoke will always be shy to discuss its ill effects as they feel that the kids would loose respect, which is not the case. So, more than Shahrukh or Amitabh, if the parents don’t smoke, there are high chances that the kids also don’t.

February 2008
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