Bollywood superstars Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan have been told by India's health minister to stop setting a bad example by smoking in public.

"Again I would like to make an appeal, not only to Mr Shah Rukh Khan, but also to Amitabh Bachchan and to all the other personalities. Children are being affected," Anbumani Ramadoss told the CNN-IBN television news channel.

Ramadoss, who has been campaigning for a ban on smoking on screen, said Sunday he was "very concerned about (the) alarming rise of incidences of young people getting addicted to tobacco."

The minister said his plea was for an end to smoking "in public but also in the movies."

"There shouldn't be any smoking scenes in movies because we have statistics showing that 52 percent of children have their first puff of cigarette due to movie celebrities," the minister said.

The 42-year Khan, credited with two of India's biggest box office hits last year, reacted sharply to the minister's comments.

"As filmmakers we should have creative liberties because cinema is all about make believe," the actor told reporters on Monday.

Khan denied allegations that he smoked at public functions but said he agreed that an increase in the number of young people being addicted to nicotine was a matter of concern in India.

At least 2,200 people die daily from tobacco-related diseases in India, a nation of 1.1 billion people boasting the world's highest number of cinema attendances.

Both Bachchan and Khan, currently Bollywood's most popular leading man, have been hauled up on different occasions by an anti-smoking group for lighting up in public in violation of a 2004 ban.

In October, the National Organisation for Tobacco Eradication slapped a legal notice on the 42-year-old Khan asking him to explain his actions after he was spotted smoking at a cricket match and at a media conference.

Veteran superstar Bachchan also had to apologise for appearing with a cigar on film posters.

Besides outlawing smoking in public places, the government also banned adverts for tobacco products in 2004 to try to stem rampant tobacco deaths.

MUMBAI, Jan 28, 2008 (AFP)


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