Smoking bad. Anti-smoking advertising? Way worse.
Of the many wars the Indian citizen fights every day, the most important one is the daily assault on our common sense. This assault occurs in a billion different ways, like the existence of Bigg Boss. Or for example, the fact that we censor ‘beef’, ‘gay’ and ‘nipple’ on TV, which was especially annoying during that India TV report about Gay Beef Nipples. And if you’re thinking “Ah there hasn’t been an India TV report about Gay Beef Nipples”, to you I say, it’s only a matter of weeks before there is.
The deadliest enemy common sense in India faces however is our government’s approach to anti-smoking advertising; an approach so heavy-handed that it stresses smokers out into wanting another cigarette. I could be wrong though, it’s quite possible that this campaign works, assuming its goal is to make me want to give smokers a hug and light the next one for them myself.
Earlier this week, in keeping with the American tradition of meddling in wars they have no reason to, Woody Allen refused to release his latest film in India because he couldn’t abide by our need for constant anti-smoking reminders. Mr Allen’s films are set in a mumbling, hyper-eloquent version of the real world, and because 1/6th of the real world’s population smokes, so do the people in his films. Except in India, every time that happens, a message appears on the screen that reminds us JUST WHAT A NAUGHTY VERY BAD STERN SHAKE OF FINGER THING THAT IS! To which Mr Allen said um, uh, um, uh, um no um thanks um um. And I’m really glad he did.
Let me underline here that I’m not condoning smoking, or suggesting that we all put out full-page ads that beg people to light up. The cancer-stick is definitely a problem, but I just think that we’ve done all we can to say as much. We get it. Smoking kills. Everyone on the planet got the memo/pre-movie ad/newspaper ad/second pre-movie ad/TV ad/third pre-movie ad with actual lungs/ushers running out and throwing pieces of cancer at audience. In fact there are so many little videos before a movie in Mumbai that by the time it starts, I’ve been brainwashed into a patriotic non-smoking man with a warm glow in my heart for Gangar Opticians.
I digress, my point is that the first time you tell me not to do something, I believe you. The second, third and fourth time, I recognise that you mean well. The fifth time though, I’ll do it just to spite you because nobody likes being babied. Smoking is terrible, but so is Aftab Shivdasani, and you don’t see a “Guys, this is probably giving you 11 brain tumours right now. And eroding your vision” warning every time he’s on-screen.
Buying a cigarette is the world’s most unique purchase decision, and it’s the only one where you’re told not to buy it at every step of the way. Heck the last thing a smoker sees before he puts a cigarette in his mouth is a picture of a tumorous corpse with the words ‘Smoking Kills’ next to it. And he lights up anyway. It’s a lifestyle choice, and it will kill you, but it’s still a choice, like many other lifestyle decisions that’ll kill you, like too much red meat, sugar and cholesterol.
A common counter-argument to that is “but if someone else chooses to eat red meat, that doesn’t harm me.” And I’d grant you that, except we (correctly) solved that part of the problem by kicking smokers out of offices, malls, bars and most public spaces, and shunting them into areas away from non-smokers. Have you seen airport smoking lounges? They look and smell like a microwave after you left a potato in there too long. But they keep non-smokers protected, so they can get lung cancer from their daily commute into the city like everybody else.
Do we need to discourage smoking? Yes. But not like this. In my experience, when you start to bludgeon people, their instinct is to push back. Telling someone “smoking is injurious” during an episode of Junior Masterchef actively reminds them how long it has been since their last smoke. And I could have watched that entire Woody Allen film without once noticing a cigarette in it. Except now when I watch it, they’re all I’ll notice. And none of that would have happened if they’d just let Mr Allen’s movie, and indeed all movies, be. Worse, it’s also why I will never ever be able to stop thinking of Gay Beef Nipples.
Rohan Joshi is a writer and stand-up comedian who likes reading, films and people who do not use the SMS lingo. You can also contact him on www.facebook.com/therohanjoshi