Bollywood trying to water down India's rules on smoking in movies; Ministry should keep saying no

There is an important indication that the Government of India’s policies designed to get smoking out of movies are having an impact: On December 25, 2015, the Times of India reported that “Bollywood offers to make anti-tobacco short films to go with their movies.”

This means

(1) Bollywood recognizes that the policy is not going away

(2) They are highly motivated to keep the smoking in their movies, perhaps to keep the tobacco companies happy.

(3) We don’t want to turn creation of anti-tobacco messaging to people with a history of working with tobacco

For people who have not been following developments in India, the Government requires Ministry of Health-produced anti-smoking ads before and during the intermission for all films that include smoking. And, any time that tobacco use appears on screen, an anti-smoking (text) message has to appear on the screen at the same time.

As the Times reported, “officials in the health ministry are of the view that filmmakers may dilute the message in order to protect the aesthetic value or in interest of their own movie. Consequently, putting the entire purpose of showcasing such a warning at risk, an official said.”

The Ministry likely doubts Bollywood’s sincerity After all, Bollywood has been fighting any limits on smoking in movies for decades, including repeated (ultimately unsuccessful) lawsuits.

The Ministry is wise to maintain this position. Indeed, and not surprisingly, the “anti-smoking” ads that the cigarette companies have air actually promoted smoking.

After all, if India’s film companies want to avoid the requirement to run government-sponsored anti-tobacco spots, all they need to do is leave the smoking and other tobacco use out of the movies rated for kids.

The Bollywood proposal sounds like MPAA’s pre-2007 offers, in visits to state AGs, to put together anti-smoking spots. The state AGs, wisely, didn’t take MPAA up on it.

Best of all for Bollywood, leaving tobacco out of movies doesn’t cost Bollywood a rupee. That is, unless they are taking money from tobacco companies to include the smoking in the first place.

The rules about smoking on screen are not about comforting film companies whose products recruit kids to smoke. The rules are designed to save children’s lives.

The Ministry should maintain its position of global leadership on the issue of smoking in the movies and stick with the current rules.