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Smoking in films 'encourages uptake in children'

Researchers have blasted "irresponsible" film makers, "incompetent" regulators and "insouciant" politicians for failing to control smoking in films.

The criticism comes as studies show smoking in films "remains a major and persistent driver" of smoking uptake among children and teenagers.

Dr Ailsa Lyons and Professor John Britton of the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies have both called for the reclassification of films that depict smoking to mirror the same restrictive categories applied to those depicting sex and violence.

However, they have described their efforts to do so as "futile".

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) guidelines were updated in 2005 to include the following passage on drugs:

"No work taken as a whole may promote or encourage the use of illegal drugs. Any detailed portrayal of drug use likely to promote or glamourise the activity may be cut. Works which promote or glamourise smoking, alcohol abuse or substance misuse may also be a concern, particularly at the junior categories."

When approached by the Lyons and Britton, the BBFC said its guidelines are "proportionate, take due account of the available evidence of harm; and reflect the clear wishes of the public".

The regulator went on to say reclassification was "unlikely to happen" in the absence of a public complaint or a directive from the government.

This directive appears a long way off as a spokesperson from the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) told Nursing in Practice that a total ban on smoking in films would be a "disproportionate interference".

"The government believes the current arrangements provide sufficient control on the depiction of smoking in films," said the spokesperson. 

"[A total ban] would undermine the credibility, and therefore the quality, of domestically produced films."

While the researchers may not have the backing of the BBFC and the government, Cancer Research UK has thrown its weight behind their argument.

"There is a large and growing body of evidence that children's exposure to smoking in films encourages them to have a positive view of smoking and to try smoking," said Jean King, Director of Tobacco Control at Cancer Research UK.

"Anti-smoking adverts should be shown before films that feature smoking and smoking scenes need to be a part of the classification of films."

A recent study undertaken by researchers from Bristol University underpins Lyons and Britton's argument.

Through analysing the smoking behaviour of 5,000 15 year olds, researchers concluded teens exposed to movie content with the most depictions of smoking were 59% more likely to have started smoking than those exposed to the least, after taking account of other influential social and family factors.

The study also points out that UK teens are exposed to "considerably more" smoking depictions in films than their US peers, as 79% of films rated as 'adult' in the US are deemed suitable for young people in the UK.

"Protecting children from an exposure that is 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," said Lyons and Britton.

"Smoking in films remains a major and persistent driver of smoking uptake among children and young people, which the actions of the irresponsible film makers, incompetent regulators, and insouciant politicians are abjectly failing to control."

Centre for Tobacco Control Studies

We asked if you think films that feature smoking should be reclassified. Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

"I do not believe this, the biggest factor in teens taking up smoking is peer pressure and always will be" - Marie, Lancs

"At the end of the day, we are not mindless automatons. We do have the free will to choose whether we smoke or not. It is just another example of Do Gooding at its worst. Is there not other more pressing matters that these people can turn their attention to?" - Tony Moran, London

"Anyone stupid enough to be influenced by a film, especially fictional films, to take up smoking needs serious help. Violence isn't banned from films and the vast vast majority of us are wise enough not to copy that" - James, Magdeburg

"Would happily see smoking banned altogether in films. The literature on smoking is vast and unequivocal, and to do so little on this topic is ducking the moral responsibility of regulation/government" - D Merrick, Edinburgh