Rules advise filmmakers to give a 20-second anti-smoking message

The Union government on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that it would soon come out with a notification that would allow the film industry to incorporate smoking scenes with statutory warnings alongside.

Counsel V. Shekar told a Bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and Ranjan Gogoi that the notification was in the final stage, and it would soon be notified in the Gazette. It was stated that the rules communicated by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on behalf of the Health Ministry was sent to the Central Board of Film Certification.

The new rules advise filmmakers to give a 20-second antismoking message as approved by the Ministry of Health — with a voice-over of one of the actors seen smoking in the film — to be displayed at the beginning and after the intermission for 15 seconds. Additionally, a static antismoking message would have to be displayed for the duration of the smoking scene.

The rules have been challenged by UTV, producers of film Heroine, in which actor Kareena Kapoor lights up in many frames. The film is scheduled for release on September 21. According to the producers, display of such warning every time she smokes would detract viewer attention from the artistic merit of the scene. The Bench gave the government time till September 20 to formally notify the rules.

In 2003, the government enacted the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act. The following year, it tried to bring in rules that banned any sort of tobacco promotion and advertising in the media. In 2005, taking note of the rise in the incidence of on-screen smoking, it further tightened the rules to place a complete ban on showing any tobacco product. Smoking scenes were to be banned in new films. Old films would have to carry statutory warnings.

Film producer and director Mahesh Bhatt challenged these rules in the Delhi High Court which, in 2009, struck them down as a violation of the right to creative expression of the moviemaker, an intrinsic part of his right to free speech.

Centre’s appeal

The Centre appealed against this judgment, contending that it was entitled to place reasonable restrictions on smoking in the interest of public health. While it was still pending, the government announced that it would notify fresh rules on October 27, 2011, but it did not do so.

The notification, which was to come into effect from November 14, 2011, made it mandatory for all new movies that have smoking scenes or tobacco use to provide valid explanations. It also made it compulsory for the authorities concerned to run a scroll, depicting anti-tobacco health warnings, at the bottom of the screen, during the scene.

The Centre, in its special leave petition, said: “Neither the filmmakers nor newspaper publishers can claim a right, much less a fundamental right, to glorify smoking scenes or any act, which directly or indirectly suggests or promotes the use or consumption of cigarettes or any tobacco product, that too, without justification. The restriction is justifiable on the grounds of exercise of the fundamental rights of citizens at large, whose right to health and life cannot be subservient to the rights of the individuals who are carrying on the business or profession for personal gains.”

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