Today is World No Tobacco Day. Filmmakers and doctors talk about how they are helping the effort to smoke out the smokers

A laugh can clear the air like nothing else. So when young film director Jude Anthany Joseph wanted to include a message for his viewers, he decided to fall back on humour to get his message across. As a result the blockbuster Ohm Shanthi Oshaana begins with a scene that has Nivin Pauly and Aju Verghese indulging in some tomfoolery that also happens to be a strong anti-tobacco message wrapped up in some fun.

“I wanted to prove that one could make films that click with viewers and yet do not involve scenes showing people smoking, drinking or spewing foul language. In my case, it worked. I was also keen that my films should not be seen as encouraging any such substance abuse, overtly or covertly. But I certainly did not want to be preachy. What I did was an irreverent way of putting across an anti-smoking disclaimer,” says Jude.

He is not the only one in Mollywood who feels that smoking and drinking are not mandatory for movies to woo the public. In fact, Jeethu Joseph, director of the blockbuster Drishyam, says firmly that he believes certain scenes in movies could make youngsters susceptible to smoking on account of the way those scenes are portrayed.

“To tell you the truth, there are some favourite Hollywood films that I enjoy which has scenes showing the hero puffing away. Some of the evocative scenes make you long to light up. I am confident that it must be the same for many viewers. So the anti-tobacco disclaimer should be there, whether one likes it or not,” he says.

Although some filmmakers are averse to the mandatory anti-smoking disclaimer and videos that are now screened in cinemas, Jeethu asserts he is all for it since he feels that at least some viewers might be influenced by the video or the message. He should know, for he was one of those who was forced to rethink his habit of smoking an occasional cigarette after watching the gory video that shows what happens to a smoker’s lungs.

“It did not make me stop the next day. But it made me uneasy. The thought of all that tar in the lungs of a smoker did make me try and stay away from smoking. I have not lit up for the last six months,” admits Jeethu.

“It is the drishyam (visual) that stays on in your mind,” Jeethu avers. Kunchacko Boban, who has spoken out strongly against smoking on many public platforms, does not share Jeethu’s same level of enthusiasm for the anti-smoking disclaimer. “In my film Ordinary, there were scenes that showed the characters drinking. The disclaimer would not be shown then but appear in some other irrelevant scene, which was irritating. But I agree that the video screening might have an effect on at least some smokers. Even if 10 people out of a thousand give up the habit, I would consider that as 10 families saved,” he says.

Adds the actor: “My father, Boban Kunchacko, was a chain smoker and I have seen the damage it did to him. By the time he stopped, it was too late. So I have never ever lit up. But, I feel, as an adult, each of us has to take that decision not to be a slave to substance abuse of any kind.”

All of them point out that although there is a perception that tinsel town is full of smokers, it is a misconception as there are many who are not into it.

Jeethu feels that it is peer pressure that persuades many to take their first drag. But Kunchacko says that despite having friends who smoke, he has never felt the need to do the same.

What all these young filmmakers emphasise is that it is up to individuals to choose how they bond with friends or spend their leisure. And there is no reason why your life should go up in smoke for the sake of a puff.

Stub the habit

Today, even while a group of enthusiastic walkers try to raise awareness about the harmful effects of tobacco, there will be many in the city huffing and puffing their way to grave illnesses. Smoking out a killer is not an easy task. While health officials and government officials try to get the message across to people, it is not clear how many are reading the smoke signals correctly.

However, instead of merely fuming about it, a dedicated team of doctors, teachers and volunteers are trying to stub out a habit that has caused and is causing thousand of lives to go up in smoke.

Doctors of Trivandrum Oncology Club (TOC), Qualified Private Medical Practitioners Association, Swathi and Rotary Club have joined hands to launch a year-long anti-tobacco drive that will focus on schools.

Chandramohan K., secretary of the TOC, says it was the results of a study that motivated them to begin a public awareness programme today (May 31), observed the world over as No Tobacco Day.

In spite of the campaigns and stringent regulations, surveys indicate that many youngsters in schools are taking to smoking. “Overall, the use of tobacco shows a decline in Kerala. But we were perturbed by a study that seems to show that it is rearing its head again among students between the ages of 14 to 17,” says oncologist Devin Prabhakar.

So the doctors and volunteers intend to visit every single school in the district and conduct anti-tobacco programmes there. Along with that, they are planning a survey to find out if there is a sharp increase among young users of tobacco products. “If so, the next step is to zero in on why smoking is on the rise amongst youngsters,” says Dr. Chandramohan.