Demands to Classify Films by Levels of Smoking as Well as Violence and Sex

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Byline: MADELEINE BRINDLEY

MOVIES which include characters smoking should be automatically rated 18, leading tobacco experts said today.

The call comes as worrying new evidence reveals how teenagers are influenced by images of actors smoking in Hollywood films.

The experts and researchers said smoking in films remains a "major and persistent driver" of smoking uptake among children and young people.

And they said the responsible parties - including film makers, regulators, and politicians - are "abjectly failing to control" the portrayal of smoking in films.

It has also been suggested that anti-smoking adverts should be screened before films which depict the habit.

But the British Board of Film Classification has told the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies that any change to the classification system "would be likely to provoke powerful opposition from the film industry".

Research published today in the journal Thorax shows teenagers exposed to images of smoking on the large screen are more likely to smoke.

The study, by Bristol University, found the more films they saw containing depictions of smoking, the more likely they were to have tried smoking themselves.

Those exposed to movie content with the most depictions of smoking are 59% more likely to have started smoking than those exposed to the least, after taking account of other influential social and family factors.

Dr Andrea Waylen, who led the study, said: "More than half the films shown in the UK that contain smoking are rated 15 or below, so children and young teenagers are clearly exposed.

"Our results confirm an association between this exposure and youth smoking in this country, indicating that raising the certification to 18 in the UK is likely to lower smoking rates among youth.

"Given that smoking depictions in films are not consistent with the ban on smoking in public places in the UK and that the relationship may be causal, a precautionary principle should be pursued.

"Films ought to be rated by exposure to smoking in the same way that they are currently rated by levels of violence."

An editorial, also published in Thorax, by Dr Ailsa Lyons and Professor John Britton, from the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies, said: "Protecting children from an exposure so potentially damaging is a national governmental responsibility and the solution to the problem is simple - for the UK and indeed other film classification agencies to apply a default 18 classification on all films containing smoking. …