Page last updated at 13:41 GMT, Friday, 23 January 2009

India film smoking ban is lifted

Man smoking in Delhi
The government says that films glamorise smoking

The High Court in Delhi has overturned a government ban on showing smoking scenes in films.

The court said that the ban violated the fundamental right of film-makers to freedom of speech and expression.

"The director of films should not have multifarious authorities breathing down their necks when indulging in creative art," Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul said.

Film-makers had condemned the ban when it was instigated in 2005 as an absurd infringement of artistic expression.

'Wrong target'

Mr Justice Kaul passed the order to revoke the ban as an "umpire judge" after a junior court had earlier given a split ruling on efforts by Bollywood director Mahesh Bhatt to challenge curbs on scenes of smoking in films and on television.

Mr Justice Kaul agreed that a blanket ban on films that showed smoking scenes was a direct encroachment on the creativity and free artistic expression of the film-maker.

Movie-makers said that films were the wrong target in the drive to curb smoking.

The government had argued that 800,000 Indians a year died from smoking-related diseases and that it was wrong for films or TV programmes to glamorise the habit.

It said that old films - whether Indian or foreign - must carry warnings if they showed smoking scenes. It said all logos of tobacco products must be masked or cut out.

Mr Bhatt condemned the move at the time, saying: "One would understand a ban on surrogate advertising, but to completely ban [smoking] is ridiculous, a joke taken too far."

He and other film makers argued that the government should go after the source - people who produced tobacco.

But the World Health Organisation said the move would help cut India's smoking-related deaths because the portrayal of "attractive people smoking" had an influence on young people as "some of them identify with those on the screens".

In 2004, smoking was banned in public places in India and a ban imposed on tobacco firms' advertising in and sponsoring of sporting events.

Another law in 2005 required manufacturers to list tar and nicotine content on packets.

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