Shah Rukh Khan Blames The Fire Place For The Smoke In His Life

Shah Rukh Khan, the Bollywood super star, is once again in the news, albeit for wrong reasons. During the recent 12th International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) awards ceremony in Toronto, he reportedly blamed his initial days with theatre for his legendary smoking habit. Recalling his days as a theatre actor in Delhi, he said: "I remember when a fireplace was put up, the guys used to go behind the fireplace to smoke and put out the fire. That's how I also started smoking and it is not my fault. It has (this habit) got all to do with theatre.”

 Even if said in a lighter vein, this statement is likely to have far reaching effects on thousands of his fans who love to imitate him. In a country like India, where the on and off screen actions/utterances of the popular cine stars become the gospel truths for a public thriving on cheap entertainment, Shah Rukh’s confession can only encourage our gullible youth to find stupid excuses to consume tobacco, rather than quit the habit. If the mere presence of a convenient fireplace initiated him to smoke, then one can image the devastating effect his smoking in reel and real life must be having on his admirers.

Shahrukh, along with the other two Khans of the film industry (Aamir and Salman), has reportedly been battling unsuccessfully to quit smoking. He has also said that, "Every time I am in front of a television channel I always say children don't smoke, it kills you. It is the worst habit and I want to give it up as soon as possible.”

But the soon has yet to arrive. Taking a cue from his reported desire to quit (but being unable to do so) an NGO has come forward to help him tread the tobacco free path. If the theatre put him on the smoky road, this renowned NGO, called Health Related Information Dissemination Amongst Youth (HRIDAY), has sent him a two-page factsheet on tobacco cessation and an anti-smoking kit. In her letter to SRK, Dr Monika Arora, Senior Director, HRIDAY said, "We have learnt that you have made earnest attempts in the past to quit smoking. To help you with this, we have enclosed a set of nicotine replacement therapy (NRTs) patches which can be helpful in a person's quit programme. Quit and become a real hero for your millions of fans worldwide."

It would be worthwhile to mention here that HRIDAY, along with an international NGO, Freedom from Hunger, has recently received the '2011 BestPractices in Global Health Awards’ of the Global Health Council. Founded in 1992, HRIDAY works in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to promote health awareness and informed health activism among Indian youth. Its programs have focused on youth-led initiatives to reduce tobacco use among young and vulnerable populations, involving the implementation of comprehensive tobacco advertising, a promotion and sponsorship ban and enforcing smoke-free laws in public places.

It may be a mere conjecture that if that fireplace were not there, Shahrukh Khan would not have smoked. But the relationship between exposure to smoking in films and adolescent smoking has been demonstrated across cultures. Shahrukh Khan, and some other cine stars have pleaded in the past that portraying smoking on screen should be allowed as part of cinematic expression. However, numerous studies have proved it beyond doubt that the impact of media on smoking among young people is profound; that youth behaviour is highly influenced by mainstream movie celebrities;, and that smoking in movies is a major risk factor for smoking initiation among adolescents. One such study “Effect ofviewing smoking in movies on adolescent smoking initiation” published in the Lancet in 2003, reported that 52.2% of smoking initiation in children can be attributed to exposure to smoking in movies. So, artistic freedom notwithstanding, limiting exposure of young adolescents to smoking scenes in movies can prevent a sizeable number of youngsters from initiating tobacco consumption.

As countries across the world, including India, grapple with the menace of tobacco (which is also a leading cause of Non Communicable Diseases), and as the UN member states gear up for the forthcoming NCD Summit, I would appeal to the so called socially responsible stalwarts of the Indian film industry (the likes of Aamir Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan—in alphabetical order) to make a commitment in words and deed, endorsing that the use of tobacco in any form and anywhere (on screen and off screen) should be shunned. Our personal choices/ freedom (to smoke), and our artistic creative liberties to portray smoking, will have to take a back seat if they endanger millions of innocent lives, and cripple economies across the world.

It may be easy to donate money to charities, but it may be a trifle more difficult (although several fold more worthwhile) to become a role model in the real (not reel) sense of the word and champion the cause of a Tobacco Free World.

Shobha Shukla - CNS
(The author is the Editor of Citizen News Service (CNS). She is a J2J Fellow of National Press Foundation (NPF) USA. She is also the Director of CNS Gender Initiative and CNS Diabetes Media Initiative (CNS-DMI). She has worked earlier with State Planning Institute, UP. Email:, website: