NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The Delhi High Court on Friday overturned an Indian federal ban on performers smoking in films, saying it restricted creative freedom of expression, PTI news agency reported.
"A cinematographic film must reflect the realities of life. Smoking is a reality of life. It may be undesirable but it exists," PTI quoted Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, who passed the judgment, as saying.
"Directors of films should not have multifarious authorities breathing down their necks...," Kaul said.
The health ministry could not be reached immediately for comment.
India banned smoking scenes in movies and on television in 2005, saying they glamorized the use of cigarettes, but the move angered stars and filmmakers in the country's prolific Bollywood movie industry.
In tough regulations, the health ministry had also ordered distributors and directors to show health warnings on screens in old movies and TV shows, whether Indian or foreign, that showed actors smoking.
Bollywood, which turns out more movies than Hollywood, often depicted its macho heroes with cigarettes or cheaper-priced handrolled bidis dangling from their lips.
Film director Mahesh Bhatt petitioned the High Court to overturn the ban, PTI said.
India banned smoking in public places last year.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says smoking kills about 4 million people globally each year, causing a quarter of deaths related to heart disease.
The organization estimates that by 2030, more than 8 million people will die from tobacco-related causes each year, mainly in developing countries such as India.
Writing by Matthias Williams