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"It little profits that an idle king, By this still hearth, among these barren crags, Match'd with an ag├Ęd wife, I mete and dole Unequal laws unto a savage race, That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me."

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Smoke-screened

Yesterday the Indian government, specifically the Union Health Minister, has mooted a legislation to ban cigarette smoking on screen.

I'm a non-smoker, and I can't stand the smell of smoke. In fact, I choke if someone smokes in the vicinity. Yet I consider this move to be ridiculous. The reason profferred by the Honourable Minister is that smoking is a dangerous habit, a "public perfomance" of which tends to set a wrong example to the younger generation.

I would have welcomed this move had it covered the entire spectrum of the common health-injuring pastimes known to man - smoke, drink and drugs. Even under the category of smoke, there is a distinction. Whereas cigarettes are taxed heavily, "beedi" (the poor man's version of the cigarette) is not taxed at all. The new law is specific to cigarette smoking. One wonders why.

The Economic Times puts forth the argument that cigarette smokers are not a vote bank at all, whereas those involved in tobacco farming are a major vote bank. An analogy which comes to mind is the comparison of the prices of diesel and petrol. Diesel has always been priced lower than petrol, not because of any reasons relating to production. The reason is political - millions of trucks, lorries and buses run on diesel and not on petrol. The result is obvious, isn't it?

The one point which many people outside of Tamil Nadu wouldn't be able to appreciate is the stance taken by the father of the Health Minister. Dr. S. Ramadoss, who heads the PMK (a party formed and functioning purely on casteist lines) is a sworn enemy of actor Rajnikant. A couple of years ago, he created a huge furore by publicly proclaiming that the actor (whose movies always had a scene in which Rajni was seen smoking stylishly) was the sole reason why young Tamils were taking to smoke.

What a clumsy argument! It was aimed solely at scoring political points. This latest move by his son seems no different. Some political stance, just to remind voters of his presence.

For want of a nail, a kingdom was lost...

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