Sat, 31 May 2003

WHO asks entertainers to quit tobacco ads

Sari P. Setiogi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The World Health Organization (WHO) has called upon actors, singers and others working in the entertainment industry, especially those working in film and fashion, to stop promoting tobacco.

The theme for this year's global "No Tobacco Day", which falls on May 31, is Tobacco-Free Film, Tobacco-Free Fashion, Action!, focusing on the entertainment industry, which is believed to have fostered tobacco addiction among the public, particularly teenagers.

In Indonesia, one estimate (source?) indicated that 90 percent of celebrities in Indonesia were smokers, and thus indirectly promoted smoking to the public, especially their fans.

Tobacco companies here have also been using artists and models to promote their products.

Rhythm-and-Blues alto Reza Artamevia Massaid does not smoke, and the mother of two has a strict rule against smoking for those around her.

"I never allow people to smoke inside my house or car. Also, washing their hands after smoking is a must," she said.

Although Reza, whose songs are the theme songs of several popular television series, is one of the few artists who do not smoke, she admitted that she has a good relationship with the tobacco companies that sponsor her.

"I think the warning on the cigarette pack is fair and acceptable enough," she said.

Raam Punjabi, mogul of Indonesian television soap operas locally known as sinetron, welcomed the call from WHO, saying that he had implemented a no-smoking policy among his employees.

"Any of my employees who get caught smoking red-handed in our office must pay a fine of Rp 5,000," Punjabi told the Post.

The money collected would be spent on a monthly gathering among the employees, he said, "and we will openly announce who contributes to the gathering, expecting that those referred to will feel ashamed and never smoke in the office again."

Multivision Plus, the production house owned by Punjabi, now employs about 104 actors under exclusive contracts, with 18 sinetron programs aired nationwide.

"Ninety-nine percent of our sinetron programs do not encourage smoking," said Punjabi, adding, "I said 99 percent because sometimes during the shoot, which are mostly taken from daily life, we cannot avoid smokers."

Asked to comment upon the marketing tactics of the tobacco industry in films, he answered that his company always rejects tobacco sponsorship and promotion.

"In the end, our employees can understand that what I'm doing is actually a good move, and they appreciate it," said Punjabi, who comes from a non-smoking family. "Certainly, my employees have had to reduce their frequency of smoking," he added.

A sinetron actor, Krisna Mukti, also happens to be a non- smoker. "I do not like smoking, and besides, I'm allergic to nicotine," he said.

As for scenes in films in which he might have to smoke, Krisna said that he would try to make a deal to avoid it. "If there's no other choice, then I would only put it (the cigarette) between my fingers or my lips, but won't inhale the smoke," he said.

Krisna admitted that about 90 percent of Indonesian celebrities were smokers, but felt it was their own choice in life.

"We are all grown-up people who already know what is good and what is bad. I, personally, feel annoyed if people smoke near me, but it's their right so I can't do much," he said.