Children in the UK are exposed to “millions” of tobacco images every week on television, leading to calls for curfew on programmes featuring smoking.
Published in BMJ journal Tobacco Control, the study said smoking is frequently featured in films marketed at children, which may “spark their interest in starting to smoke”.
Smoking was noted in 12% of all programmes, according to researchers from the University of Nottingham.
By looking at 420 hours of recordings, totalling 613 programmes and 1121 adverts, the researchers found that more than a third (34%) of all programmes featured smoking.
Nearly 70% of tobacco shown on TV was before the 9pm watershed, which is supposed to mark the line between material suitable for adults and material suitable for children.
Based on their figures, the researchers estimated that there are 59 million instances of tobacco imagery, 16 million shots of actual tobacco use and 3 million tobacco brand appearances every week.
“We would recommend that future television programming remove gratuitous depictions of tobacco, particularly actual smoking and tobacco branding, from programmes aimed at young people or scheduled before the 9pm watershed,” lead author Dr Ailsa Lyons from the Epidemiology and Public Health division at the University of Nottingham.