Nithya Subramanian

New Delhi, March 30

CRUSADERS against tobacco consumption have won a battle of sorts the `brave' Bollywood actor Vivek Oberoi has been persuaded to return an award conferred on him by leading cigarette manufacturer Godfrey Phillips India (GPI).

Even the Health Ministry has stepped in, asking the film star to part with the Red & White Award bestowed on him for his charity work among tsunami victims. Sources in the Ministry said since Oberoi was among 32 others chosen from all over the world by the World Health Organisation for the `World No-Tobacco Award 2004,' it was felt that his acceptance of a bravery award from a tobacco company would be inappropriate.

Further, the Ministry feels that tobacco companies have been trying to promote their brands through such events because of a ban on cigarette and tobacco products. It has been stepping up monitoring violations of the Tobacco Control legislation, which bans all forms of advertising of cigarettes and tobacco products.

The Red & White Awards have been instituted to honour `unsung heroes.' According to GPI, this time an exception was made for Oberoi because he inspired scores of people to rush to the tsunami-affected areas and take up similar rehabilitation schemes.

In a letter written to Mr Y.K Sapru, Chairman of the Cancer Patients Aid Association, Oberoi said, "I accepted the Award only to further the cause of the tsunami victims. At no point, did I intend to or as a matter of fact, even realise that I would hurt and disillusion the scores of dedicated workers in our anti-tobacco movement." Reiterating his commitment to the anti-tobacco movement, he said, "I have returned the Red & White Award."

Oberoi, last year, featured in three television spots against smoking and has been persuading film producers and directors not to force him to smoke on-screen. Interestingly, in a 2003 study by the WHO, Oberoi, along with Shah Rukh Khan and Ajay Devgan, were among top three film stars from Mumbai who acted in the maximum number of scenes that showed them smoking.

The Health Ministry, in recent months, has been sending out missives to tobacco companies and state governments seeking an explanation on violations of the Tobacco Control legislation. It has been pointing out that banners and hoardings put up on high-rise buildings and other places show logos of popular tobacco brands.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated March 31, 2005)
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