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Last Updated: Friday, 30 May, 2003, 15:05 GMT 16:05 UK
Bollywood stars attack smoking

By Geeta Pandey
BBC correspondent in Delhi

Pooja Bedi and model Shefali Talwar
Actress Pooja Bedi and model Shefali Talwar are part of the campaign
Top Bollywood stars in India have come forward to join a campaign against the use of tobacco.

A recent study sponsored by the World Health Organisation had accused Bollywood of encouraging young people to smoke by showing more smoking on screen.

It took action with public service advertisements in the Indian capital Delhi, showing famous actors like Vivek Oberoi and Urmila Matondkar talking up the virtues of not lighting up.

"Smoking a cigarette does not make anyone cool...it only makes you ill," says Oberoi.

Cigarette smoking kills 500,000 in South East Asia each year
Another ad carries a warning from Urmila, who says: "Every cigarette reduces life by three minutes. Isn't that scary? If you're not scared, then you are not brave, you are foolish."

Every year, 31 May is observed as the World No Tobacco Day and this year's slogan is "Tobacco free films, tobacco free fashion, Action!"

Speaking on the eve of the No-Tobacco day, the WHO's acting regional director for South East Asia region, Dr Than Sein, called on the film and fashion industry to be more responsible socially.

He wants them to stop promoting tobacco - a product that kills.

Use of tobacco kills 4.9 million people globally every year, of which 500,000 fatalities are reported from South East Asia.

Biddis - local cigarettes made from leaves and tobacco - are popular
Ambika Srivastava, who did the study for the WHO, says film and fashion stars are major icons and they greatly influence public behaviour and preferences.

According to statistics, some 15 million people in India go to the movies every day.

The WHO study says that 76% of the top films surveyed between 1990 and 2002 showed smoking as the "cool" thing to do.

Ms Srivastava says Bollywood cannot be blamed for causing cancer, but it can help by not promoting a product that does.

However she says although the response from Bollywood and the fashion industry has been encouraging, a lot still needs to be done.

Ambika Srivastava
Ambika Srivastava wrote the WHO report
The WHO has also roped in glamorous film actress, Pooja Bedi and well-known model Shefali Talwar in their campaign against tobacco.

But some Bollywood big names like directors Mahesh Manjrekar and Mahesh Bhatt have pooh-poohed the report for finding a connection between the industry and smoking.

Mr Manjrekar says most people see films and forget them and that it does not have a lot of impact.

Some analysts say the link between the film industry and use of tobacco may be somewhat exaggerated since in India, cigarettes account for only 14% of the total consumption.

A staggering 55% of tobacco users smoke bidis (the rolled up tobacco leaf) and some 30 per cent chew tobacco.

The film industry, they say, can perhaps be linked to cigarette smoking but to say that it promotes the use of chewing tobacco or bidis is a bit far-fetched.

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