Two smoking experts have called for smoking in films to be treated by censors in the same way as sex and violence and want movies in which actors light up classified for adults only.
Professor John Britton and Dr Ailsa Lyons of the UK Centre for Tobacco Control say they’ve failed in their efforts to convince the UK’s film regulator, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) and the Government’s media ministry to take action on what they say is a “major and persistent driver” of youngsters starting to smoke.
Writing in the journal Thorax, the scientists say the regulators, who they label ‘incompetent’ are ‘abjectly failing to control the film industry.
The authors draw on research published in the same journal which argues that children who see smoking in films are more likely to take up smoking than those who don’t.
Bristol University scientists looked at the smoking habits of more than 5,000 15-year-olds. The youngsters’ smoking behaviour was compared to 50 randomly chosen popular movies which had been analysed for the way they portrayed smoking.
The researchers found that, even when other factors such as parental and peer behaviour were factored in, watching more smoking scenes on screen made teenagers more likely to smoke. Those who saw the most celluloid smoke were 32% more likely to start smoking than those who saw the least after all other factors were taken into account.
“Protecting children from an exposure that is so potentially damaging is, however, a national governmental responsibility,” write Britton and Lyons, “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,” contend the authors.
It’s an idea shared by the Bristol team, who conclude: “Films ought to be rated by exposure to smoking in the same way that they are currently rated by level of violence: smoking and its adverse consequences are certainly a larger public health problem.”