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We Shouldn’t Criminalize Homosexuals

Dr Sreedevi Yadavalli

Q. You have come down strongly against celebrities like Shahrukh Khan smoking in his movies for setting bad examples. Do you believe that a democratic government is right in taking up a moral stance on a matter of personal choice such as smoking?

It is not celebrities but movies against which I have come down strongly. Movies are more a way of life for Indians, and people are greatly influenced by the stars. We have statistics to prove this.

To begin with, in the 1950s and 60s, only 30 percent of the movies had scenes depicting smoking and it was the villains who smoked. But in 2005, 89 percent of the movies had such scenes and 76 percent of these scenes were enacted by heroes or heroines.

We also have blatant statistics to show how children aged 11 to 13 years start smoking. The survey says that 52 percent of the cause is attributed to movies, 18 percent to parents and 15 percent to peers. If 52 percent of the children are influenced by movies then we certainly need to take some steps.

Some measures have been already taken. For instance, the Indian Cinematographer’s Act of 1952 bans scenes depicting smoking. In 2003, WHO held a campaign for smokeless movies. In India, we have banned all forms of advertising of tobacco products, so now the tobacco companies are trying to do it through movies!

I am not against Shahrukh Khan or Amitabh Bachchan. In fact, I enjoy their movies. But if these stars are going to smoke on screen, aren’t people going to try and follow them?

Actually, I am proud to say that my anti tobacco campaign has been well appreciated, and I have won an award for the campaign by the Director General of WHO. I am the only Health Minister in the world to be chosen for this award.

Q If we didn’t have celebrities smoking in public, how much of a difference would it make to those who are addicted to the habit?

It definitely makes a lot of difference, especially when I say 52 percent of children start smoking due to the influence of movies. In India we have a very strong but wrong culture of hero worship of celebrities, though I think the people are absolute idiots to be doing paal abhishekam (milk anointing) to their heroes. But when these celebrities are revered so much, it is better they set a good example by not smoking on-screen, which sends out wrong messages to the public.

Q Your strategy to compel people to desist from smoking in public by imposing a ban came in for a good deal of debate. Is there a reason for going slow on the implementation?

We are not going slow on the implementation. And the debate was not against me, but in my favor. I had 95 percent on my side and only 5 percent against me.
I feel alcohol is the mother of all public health problems. It ruins families and health. This is because in India, people really don’t know how to drink; they only get drunk.

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