Be it for the adrenaline-inducing endeavours of James Bond or the sharp-mindedness of Beena Tripathi from Mirzapur, much of cinema would be banal without its fair share of iconic characters. It’s no secret that the characters portrayed on screen and the actors playing them greatly influence box office revenues.
In South Indian cinema, the likes of Mohanlal, Ram Charan, Prabhas, among others, have long enjoyed success in the industry owing to their loyal fan-base. Bollywood, too, possesses its share of fan favourites in Nawazuddin Siddique, Pankaj Tripathi, and Vijay Varma, among others. The coalescence of fan-loyalty, coupled with ‘For the Fan’ content and industry rivalries, has blended a perfect brew for the industry’s survival.
But while producers and film industrialists work on selling their content to enthusiasts and the general audience, opinions surrounding the rebounding impact of characterisation, psychological idiosyncrasies, and moral conduct of characters within visual content across platforms, is unheard off.
A recent article in The Swaddle highlighted the necessity of having ‘Intimacy Co-ordinators’ on film sets to assist the actor and director in navigating the shooting of intimate scenes. Recent studies have also analysed dialogues, colourism, and gender inclusivity in Bollywood films and have found positive trends.
Despite this, questionable elements within visual content and controversial characters still seem to wield a significant influence on the general audience. One of the most contentious amongst them recognising the influence of smoking imagery in films and, more recently, Over-the-top (OTT) content on the audience.
Tobacco Imagery Compounds Smoking Habits Among Young Indians
Over the years, Bollywood movies and, more recently, OTT content has received scorn for embellishing smoking habits and encouraging them through compartmentalising genders. In recent years, mainstream content across various platforms has fixed a cigarette between the fingers of female and LGBTQIA+ characters as a marker for independence and strength – a change from the ’70s and ’80s where female characters smoking cigarettes were portrayed as ‘Vamps’ and ‘Degenerates’. While one could argue about the potential of this change ending up as another trope, tobacco consumption is still portrayed as a token of masculinity across mainstream content amongst male characters.
More recently, Kabir Singh, a Bollywood film starring actor Shahid Kapoor as the protagonist, received scrutiny as an embodiment of toxic masculinity. The film’s teaser poster displayed a silhouette picture of the central character holding two cigarettes between his lips, with a stethoscope around his neck. It is not a long shot to assume that many of these depictions eventually influence society sections.
Studies have concluded that tobacco imagery in visual content has resulted in increased tobacco consumption among young adults. A 2019 study, published in the BMJ Journal, found that popular content streamed across OTT platforms did not comply with Section 5 of India’s Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA), 2003 – amended in 2012. It noted. “None of the episodes in any season of these seven series, including the ones which featured historical characters (The Crown and Narcos), had anti-tobacco static warning messages, anti-tobacco health spots or displayed an audio-visual disclaimer about the ill effects of tobacco use” – 3 of the ten series analysed did not have any instance of tobacco usage.
The study analysed 188 episodes across ten series – selected after discussions with participants (15-24) in New Delhi – on Netflix and Amazon Prime for instances of tobacco use and brand appearances. It found that out of the 188 episodes analysed, 108 of them had at least an instance of tobacco use. Additionally, it noted that US-produced shows accounted for more tobacco usage instances than Indian shows like ‘Mirzapur’ and ‘Sacred Games’.
Addressing the portrayal of smoking imagery in visual content and its impact within social circles, an opinionated survey conducted by the author of this article rendered mixed views. The survey conducted through the medium of an online form garnered participants’ views (19-23). Out of 25 respondents, a majority of the participants (13) were of 20 years of age.
The survey recorded that 11 out of the 22 respondents felt that Smoking Imagery in visual content impacted their social circles, while ten did not witness any manifestation of its influence. One respondent did not provide an articulate answer.
Further, it also found that nine respondents believed that tobacco imagery across film and OTT platforms requires dilution, while 13 opined for a need to educate young viewers about film characterisation.
Besides, 56% of 25 respondents held that the personification and characterisation of smoking across film and T.V content contributed to smoking habits among Indian Youth. 68% believed that smoking scenes in films and OTT content affected Indian youth. 84% of the 25 respondents felt that drug/alcohol consumption disclaimers were not adequate to discourage viewers.
While research material concludes that tobacco imagery can prompt a viewer to take up smoking, the responsibility of integrating tobacco use in visual content and its rebounding impact on the viewers needs to be shouldered not only by content producers but also by viewers and cigarette brands.
Do Cigarette Candies Encourage Smoking Habits?
Candies provide nostalgia like no other. Be it for a tangy-sweet rock or flavourful dust candy that pops in your mouth, the thought of consuming candy will have undoubtedly left you with an insatiable appetite for sweetness. In recent years, however, the uptake in consumption of candies has thrown light upon the ill-effects of its consumption. Scientific research over the years has detailed the use of unhealthy amounts of sugar and preservatives in candy bars, with research also focusing on the fallout of candy consumption. Yet, candy consumption shows no signs of slowing down.
More recently, there has been a heated debate surrounding how cigarette candies inadvertently normalise smoking’s harmful effects. The growing consumption of mint candy cigarettes amongst children has left many concerned about its potential impact on their future. Many believe that cigarette candies’ production blurs the lines between the consumption of nicotine cigarettes and candy cigarettes amongst children.
Past research has concluded that cigarette candies’ desensitised’ children about the harmful repercussions of smoking. A 2007 study conducted among 25,887 US adults found that, at the time, 22% of the smokers had a history of consuming candy cigarettes while only 14% had little to no familiarity with cigarette candies.
Further, the packaging and ingredients of cigarette candies have been before met with furore. In the past, cigarette candy manufacturing companies have received criticism for hiding powdered sugar in the wrappers, creating the illusion of ‘real smoking’. Moreover, cigarette candies do not comprise healthy ingredients either. ‘Phantom Cigarettes’, a famous candy cigarette brand in India, composes 75-80% sugar while the rest 20% comprises glucose and gelatin – excessive consumption of which can produce long-term health problems.
The amalgamation of these repercussions has led to the ban of cigarette candies in many countries across the globe. In India, cigarette candies are still sold at local shops and even online.
Research over the years has pointed out that Tobacco imagery influences smoking habits. The absence of strict action against the violators of tobacco laws within visual content and the general disregard concerning passive smoking and the production of candy cigarettes may result in a ‘Health epidemic’ WHO estimates that smoking causes 7 million deaths per year, with low and middle-income countries accounting for 80% of these deaths. Hence, smoking prevention is a global health priority, and it is indispensable, now more than ever, to discourage smoking and move towards a healthier lifestyle.