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India Fights Smoking With In-Movie PSAs

New laws in the home of Bollywood require warning captions—or even voice-overs—during smoking scenes.

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By Bryan Le

05/15/12

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Next time you check out a Bollywood flick, you might notice a slightly invasive anti-smoking message: at the beginning of the movie, actors will tell you about the dangers of smoking for at least 20 seconds, and again somewhere in the middle of the movie. Also, every time a cigarette touches someone's lips on screen, a warning ticker will scroll across the bottom, also espousing the ills of tobacco use; in the case of older films, a voice-over may be used. India is taking these drastic measures to curb its immensely high smoking rate (52% of Indians are exposed to smoking at home) and to quell the curiosity of Indian children who might want to do puff like silver screen superstars. Though many filmmakers were opposed to them, believing the new rules infringed on their “creative independence,” the rules have been approved by the ministry of law. There are still some practical problems that remain to be smoothed out: “For better implementation, the [information & broadcasting ministry] has also asked the health ministry to define the actor—whether it should be a lead actor or the one who is smoking in the film,” says a health ministry official. They hope to expand the PSAs to foreign films as well, added the official, because "the young audience that we are trying to target through this notification get swayed much more by foreign films.”

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