Animal activists slam Maha govt's anti-tobacco ad featuring cobra

An advertisement published by the state health department on World No Tobacco Day yesterday, which shows the hood of a ready-to-strike cobra atop a cigarette, is being called insensitive and anti-wildlife by animal lovers

The state government’s plan of spreading awareness about tobacco killing people backfired yesterday, with members of several wildlife NGOs accusing it of spreading venom against snakes. In an apparent bid to make the advertisement which was published in several newspapers on World No Tobacco Day scary, the state health department used a visual of the hood of a ready-to-strike cobra atop a cigarette.

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The advertisement that was published by the state health department yesterday
The advertisement that was published by the state health department yesterday

The advertisement drew a lot of flak from conservationists on social networking sites, who argued that while they have been trying to rescue snakes and trying to create awareness that they should not be killed, the health department is perpetuating the image of a cobra as a killer. Conservationists told mid-day that they felt that the advertisement was not just insensitive, but also anti-wildlife.

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“The advertisement is in poor taste and the present government has shown its insensitivity towards issues related to wildlife and the environment from time to time. This is just another addition to the list. The advertisement proves that the government does not respect wildlife.

It should be very cautious while preparing advertisements on such sensitive issues, as portraying wild animals in a bad light is not a good thing,” said Kedar Gore, from the Corbett Foundation. Biologist Dr Vidya Athreya said, “It was really shocking to see the advertisement that the state health department published on the occasion of World No Tobacco Day.

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It portrays the cobra in a bad light and the question that arises is: Should we put the cobra in such an advertisement? I feel the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) should come up with guidelines on how wildlife is depicted by government agencies and the media.”

Members of many WhatsApp groups, which are dedicated to rescuing the snakes from the Mumbai and Thane area, along with the NGOs including SARRP (Spreading Awareness on Reptiles and Rehabilitation Programme) and RAWW (Resqink Association for Wildlife Welfare), also condemned the advertisement and called it anti-wildlife.

‘Rigid positions’
Kedar Bhide, founder and president of the Reptile Rescue and Study Centre (RRSC), however, called for a different approach to the issue. “The advertisement is insensitive and in bad taste. Traditionally, animals are used as symbols for certain things a cobra is used to depict poisonous things and a scorpion is the symbol for cancer.

That is not the case in reality, right? So are we letting our emotions make us take rigid positions and are we getting intolerant of anything in bad taste?” “I would request all the people who are hurt by the ad to spend energy and time to make the government aware of the thousands of deaths that take place due to snake bites because of superstitions, lack of knowledge, untrained medical force, delay in treatment, scarcity of anti-venom, etc.

Many people lose their lives to snake bites. We are not hurt by that, but we are appalled when someone uses the hood of a cobra on a cigarette to tell people not to smoke. In that case, we should also protest about using the crab in the background,” said Bhide. Sujata Saunik, principal secretary, public health department and State Health Minister Dr Deepak Sawant were unavailable for comment on the issue.

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