Tobacco advertisement, promotion and sponsorship, display of smoking scenes and use of any other tobacco products and description of tobacco use in all entertainment media including Television, Youtube and cinema halls are banned as per the ‘Smoking and Tobacco Products Usage (Control) Act, 2005’. There is no doubt that the law enactment in this regard is a positive sign. But the tobacco control law is still now being violated largely in many films and dramas which are broadcasted in the TV channel and Youtube. The smoking scenes and use of tobacco in many other ways are displayed in many of the films, telefilms and dramas. Especially the smoking scene in cinema and dramas increased sharply in recent times.
The tobacco companies are also violating the law in various forms. They promote the films and dramas for smoking scene and description of tobacco use which can be termed as passive advertisement. Displaying smoking scene in film and drama encourages youths for tobacco consumption and addiction. It is a universal truth that many of the youths are engaged in addiction after smoking. So, smoking scene in cinema and drama must be stopped in order to create an addiction free society and to save people from premature demise.
‘Morichika’, a drama released on January 1 on Youtube this year which is directed by Kazal Arefin Ome and produced by Turin, displayed smoking scenes many times which ultimately encourages the viewers in tobacco use although the drama was made to depict the negative impact of addiction as well as tobacco use. Afran Nisho and Mehazabien are presented in the drama as chain smokers. Some other actors in the drama are also seen smoking. The smoking scene was displayed at the beginning of the about 40-minute drama. It was observed that an actor smokes a cigarette. He also offers cigarette to another actor.
According to the law, if it is necessary to display any scene containing the usage of tobacco products, the scene must be shown with a written warning about the harmful effects of consuming tobacco products. The health warning must be displayed in the middle of the screen covering at least one-fifth of the screen in white letters against a black background in Bengali. But in the drama ‘Morichika’, the health warning words “Smoking, drinking and drugs are injurious to health” was just observed at the left side of the screen in very small font in English. The smoking scenes were observed many times in the drama. The health warning words were not mentioned at the middle of the screen and also not covered by one-fifth of the screen. It was also not displayed before beginning or at the end of the drama which is also violation of the law. The law says, “Before starting the scene and also before the second advertisement break i.e. after the completion of the scene, a health warning shall be displayed in full-screen for at least 10 (ten) seconds in white letters against a black background, in Bengali with the following words "Smoking/consuming tobacco causes death”.
The use of smoking scene in the ‘Morichika’ drama is not acceptable as it defies the law. The smoking scene is shown many times in another drama named ‘Hardbreed’ directed by Kazal Arefin Ome. The tobacco control law is violated in dramas more than movies, as any movie can’t be released without censor certificate, while dramas have no such condition. Dramas must come under the Censor Board. However, some films are released with smoking scene. The anti-tobacco activists claimed that ‘Devi’ movie, which received the National Film Award, utterly violated the tobacco control law. The anti-tobacco platforms criticised and protested the film for encouraging smoking in the movie in various ways.
The National Film Award for 2017 and 2018 was announced on November 7 in 2019 where the films, film stars and artistes in 29 categories. The film ‘Dhaka Attack’ directed by Dipankar Dipon won the award for best film in 2017. A tobacco company has financed to make the film. Moreover, Jaya Ahsan was awarded as the best actress for her performance in the film ‘Devi’ in 2018. The character Misir Ali in the government financed film ‘Devi’ is a very popular character among the youngsters of the country. The character is seen smoking several times unnecessarily.
The production of such films exhibiting increased use of tobacco and smoking by film stars have been increased alarmingly after 2010. Those cinemas were cause of great concern for public health. In the international arena, the tobacco companies also used to invest a huge sum of money to add scenes of smoking in the films which is, in fact, a publicity technique of the tobacco companies. A survey conducted by social organisation ‘Burning Brain Society’ in India shows use of smoking was encouraged in 89 percent of Hindi films released during 2004 and 2005. In 67 percent of those films, the key characters of the films have been shown to smoke in public (in the film) while in 41 percent of the films, the brands of tobacco have been exhibited.
National Film Award is the highest recognition for a film and the film actors in the arena of film industries in Bangladesh. Making of films funded by the tobacco companies and awarding those films and film actors as the best films and the best actors and actresses through National Award is a clear violation of tobacco control law, which will surely thwart the pledges of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to build a tobacco free Bangladesh by 2040. Such precedence will also encourage others to violate the existing rules of the country.
We urge the authorities concerned to follow the tobacco control law during making and release of any film and drama. We also urge the government to formulate the planed ‘National Tobacco Control Policy’ aimed at controlling the use of tobacco and creating mass awareness against adverse impacts of tobacco on human health. The government should not be influenced by the tobacco companies as they are applying various tactics to prevent the government from the move. The tobacco companies are providing false and misleading information to the government office to achieve their objectives. Lastly, we say again that the smoking scenes in cinema and drama must be banned in order to create an addiction-free society and to save people from premature demise.
Ehsanul Haque Jasim is
journalist and a PhD fellow in Dhaka University