Shah Rukh may campaign against smoking Health Ministry keen to rope in Bollywood star

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Our Bureau

New Delhi, Nov. 14

SHAH Rukh Khan, who is urging India to participate in the immunisation programme under the National Rural Health Mission, could now assist the Government in checking smoking; provided he quits the habit too.

The Badshah of Bollywood, known to enjoy his smoke, had recently pledged to kick the butt on the eve of his fortieth birthday.

It is not just the cola, biscuits, two-wheeler or car brands that are roping in celebrities. The Health Ministry, too, is using well-known names from the film industry and cricketing world to spread messages.

Earlier, Amitabh Bachchan was found to be successful in energising the pulse polio campaign and the Ministry is happy with Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar's efforts to spread the message of HIV/AIDS.

Letter to SRK: The Health Minister, Dr A. Ramdoss, has written to the superstar: "It is needless to say that such a public health pronouncement by a charismatic personality like Shah Rukh Khan, will go a long way in inspiring and protecting the youth of our country from getting addicted to the use of tobacco. Moreover, the non-smokers will also be spared from involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke if it is minimised."

According to senior Health Ministry officials, "The AIDS awareness campaigns featuring Rahul or Sachin have done very well. They have a great fan following among the youth and that is our target audience." While no studies have been done to quantify the impact, officials maintained that the feedback has been positive.

Celebs and high impact: Media planners felt that campaigns featuring such icons have a high impact as everybody sits up and takes notice. "If there were no Amitabh Bachchan, nobody would have watched the pulse polio ad," he said. This strategy works very well in the rural areas where film stars are extremely popular.

But this is perhaps the first time that the Government is using a celebrity to fight use of tobacco. It hopes that Shah Rukh Khan's gesture will enlighten the youth about the ill-effects of cigarette smoking and help in improving public health.

It has initiated several measures including putting in place a tobacco control legislation that prohibits smoking in public places, sale of tobacco products to minors and around educational institutions, among others. The Health Ministry is also keen to snip smoking scenes in films and television serials.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated November 15, 2005)
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