A senior official of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Wednesday termed as "horrible" endorsement of tobacco products by Shah Rukh Khan and motor racing legend Michael Schumacher and urged them to stop promoting what was a "social malice".
"We know that celebrities in both Hollywood and Bollywood are endorsing tobacco in a huge way and we denounce it vehemently. It's really horrible to see public faces not showing enough responsibility," said Robert Beaglehole, director of the chronic diseases and health promotion at the WHO, in an interview to IANS.
He said players like Michael Schumacher or some Indian film stars should not associate themselves with tobacco products. "They have a huge fan following and promoting such products is nothing but a social malice."
Referring to Shah Rukh Khan's reported remarks that the government should rather ban the manufacturing of tobacco products instead of banning smoking on screen or endorsing such products, the WHO official said: "It is utter irresponsibility."
"We are in touch with many countries and have urged the governments including in India to discourage such practices. WHO knows that the Indian government is trying to curb these practices but what we expect is an equal responsibility on the part of celebrities," Beaglehole said on the sidelines of the Global Youth Meet on Health in this city of the Taj Mahal.
With a huge population of cinema and sports buffs in India, the celebrities should come out of a profit-making mentality, Beaglehole said, adding: "Celebrities in the fields of music, film and sports should not do anything that influences the public behaviour negatively."
He said New Zealand had already banned celebrities from endorsing tobacco products and "it should be considered as a case in point for other countries".
"The Indian government should persuade popular sports and film personalities to endorse the cause of health," he said adding that authorities must impose heavy taxes on such tobacco products to discourage its consumption.
Experts at the health meet pointed out disturbing statistics on the damage done by tobacco.
"Tobacco is the second major cause of death in the world today. Nearly five million people die due to tobacco every year and this will double by 2020," said K. Srinath Reddy, chief of the Public Health Foundation in India.
"In India alone, over 800,000 people are losing their lives due to tobacco and it is posing a huge challenge to the country's public health expenditure and productive working hours," Reddy said.