Bench splits over issue of 'banning smoking' in films, print media

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New Delhi, Feb 7 (UNI) A two-judge bench of the Delhi High Court today delivered a split verdict on the issue of ''imposing a ban on smoking'' in films as well as advertisements depicting smoking in the print media.

Disposing of a writ petition filed by filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, who challenged the validity of the Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production and Supply Act, 2003 which bans smoking scenes in films, the bench comprising Justices Mukul Mudgal and Sanjive Khanna stood divided.

Justice Mugdal said, ''If the state allows people to smoke, then there is no harm in showing it.'' Justice Khanna placed his views contradicting Justice Mugdal's statement that ''the actors are role models of the public and showing them smoking will force youngsters to emulate them, causing health problems''.

He said Article 21 of the Constitution enshrines the Right to a Healthy life to citizens, therefore, smoking scenes in movies may pose serious health problems.

Mr Bhatt had challenged the notification issued by the Government banning smoking scenes in films as well as in the print media.

His lawyers Sandeep Sethi and Chander Lall argued that there is an adequate provision with the Censor Board to delete all such scenes. The Censor Board does not allow glorification of smoking scenes, but any scene which requires depiction of smoking is allowed.

Contending before the court that ''films were for the general public and stopping particular scenes will amount to violation of the fundamental rights of a filmmaker'', Mr Bhatt's lawyer, Mr Sethi said, ''the decision of showing such scenes should be left to the Censor Board and not to the government.'' He said the Cinematograph Act 1952 and the Cinematograph (certification) Rules 1983, a comprehensive legislation enacted by the Legislature was complete in itself. Similarly, the Cable Television Rules 1994, was a comprehensive legislation regulating the Cable Television Network in the country.

Mr Sethi added that cinema also exhibits the adverse effect of tobacco products depicting the failing health of those, who smoke and drink.

Additional Solicitor General P P Malhotra, however, said according to the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act 2003, the Central Government should lay down certain rules for the policy to be enforced for advertisements of smoking.

Mr Malhotra further noted that the fundamental rights of the general public were higher than that of a filmmaker. Keeping in view the public health, the Government drafted the policy to discourage smoking among people and to promote the Fundamental Right to Good Health for the welfare of general public.

''Children below the age of 18 years are not allowed to buy cigrattes and scenes showing the hero smoking would encourage the children to do the same,'' he said.

UNI SNG PY RP ND1802

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