The smoking Don – does it matter?

BY gulati| IN Media Practice | 04/09/2006
If entertaiment is used to promote a negative behaviour, it has much stronger influence and catches on real fast.

Anil Gulati

Today media is abuzz with a new debate on the issue of the smoking don - Shahrukh Khan.  He is enacting the same as a hero in the new upcoming film ‘Don’ which is remake of the earlier hit. He smokes in a characteristic style in the film, which is being debated as it would influence the younger generation towards smoking, particularly because of his mass appeal among the younger generation. Many social organizations and individuals including the Health Minister, feel that it would, Rightly so.

Films, advertisements and celebrities do have a strong influence. In fact recognizing their power to influence, many developmental and social organizations globally and in India are using them to help promote positive behaviour. The Centre for Disease Control (USA) has recognized popular entertainment an ideal outlet for sharing health information and affecting behaviour. It recognizes the power of popular entertainment in shaping the perceptions and practices of its viewers. It says that television shows, movies, and music not only command the attention of their audiences, but also reinforce existing behavior, demonstrate new behavior, and affect audience emotions. After recognizing its potential and to promote positive behaviour social organisations are now allying with Hollywood and Bollywood on tackling  pressing health issues. This process is described by social communication experts as Edutainment (or simply educational entertainment or entertainment-education). It is a form of entertainment designed to educate as well as to amuse. Edutainment typically seeks to instruct or socialize its audience by embedding messages in some familiar form of entertainment: be it a television programs, computer and video games, films, music, websites, multimedia software or by a celebrity etc. This edutainment is not a magic mantra but it adds to the efforts at ground and helps in the process of change. If entertaiment is used to promote a negative behaviour, it has much stronger influence and catches on real fast. May be it is the  rebel within us or wanting a kick - "let me try; it is not a big deal; nothing can happen to me"  factor pushes us to pick up the same.

But "without" delving more into the subject one fact is agreeable and scientifically proved too that  smoking and tobacco kills. As per one estimates tobacco kills 800,000 Indian in a year and about four million people in the world.  Estimates also tell us that approximately 160,000 people develop cancer each year as a result of tobacco consumption. Every year some 4.5 million Indian smokers suffer from angina or heart disease and about 3.9 million people get lung disease.

This media debate also is an opportunity to reflect on two more issues, one that it is our choice whether to take up smoking or not. No one can force you if one does not want to, but our decisions do get influenced, which we may or may not agree! But just a message on a cigarette pack that ‘Smoking is injurious to health’ would not help - all of us need to do more. Secondly; it is good that media has picked this up but aren’t they also reinforcing the ‘behaviour of smoking’ by showing the scene repeated number of times with the news, without actually going deep into the fact that smoking is a silent killer?

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