Smoking on the silver screen - part 2

Occurrence of tobacco use, implied use or appearance of smoking paraphernalia occurred in 70 per cent of all films.

Over half (56 per cent) of those were rated by the BBFC as suitable for viewing by children aged 15 and under, and 92 per cent were rated as suitable for people aged 18 and under. However, tobacco use did not occur in any U-rated film released after 1999.

Tobacco appearances did fall by 80 per cent over the study period, yet persisted in films in all BBFC categories. Brand appearances were nearly twice as likely to occur in films originating wholly or in part from the UK (UK films) and most brand appearances (39 per cent) were in films with BBFC 15 classification.

This raises the possibility that product placement by tobacco companies could still be occurring. As far as brands were concerned, the leaders were Marlboro, which featured 21 times in 13 films, and Silk Cut, which featured 14 times in four films.

Marlboro occurred in all BBFC categories except U, and with no relationship to country of origin. Silk Cut appearances all occurred between 1996 and 2004 in films set in the UK and made with UK production involvement.

The most Silk Cut brand appearances were in Bridget Jones’s Diary and About a Boy, both of which were categorised as suitable for youth viewing (BBFC categories 15 and 12, respectively). The lead character in Bridget Jones’s Diary smoked Silk Cut regularly throughout the film, as she does in the novel on which the film was based.

In About a Boy the main character (Will) also smoked Silk Cut regularly throughout the duration of the film, mostly in the presence of a 12-year-old boy. However, in Nick Hornby’s novel on which the film was based, Will smoked infrequently and no brand was identified.

BBFC classification guidelines do not directly refer to tobacco use under the suitability criteria for certifying ratings of films submitted, but do state in U and PG category guidance that films receiving these certifications will show 'no potentially dangerous behaviour which young children are likely to copy'.

No reference to tobacco use, smoking or imitable behaviour is mentioned in either of the other youth-rated age categories (BBFC 12/12A or 15). "The BBFC refers specifically to use of drugs, violence, bad language and sex in official guidelines, including strict limitations in youth-rated films, so it’s surprising, given the extent of the harm caused by smoking, that these guidelines do not include tobacco," said researcher Ailsa Lyons.

As exposure to tobacco smoking and other forms of tobacco imagery in film is a potent driver of youth and adult smoking, the research team concluded that the serious potential hazard represented by tobacco exposure should also be a determinant of film classification.

This could then prevent unnecessary or inappropriate exposure of children and young people to smoking role models when they are at their most impressionable and vulnerable.

From the ESRC magazine Society Now

The UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies is a UKCRC Centre of Public Health Research Excellence. It is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, the Medical Research Council and the Department of Health, under the auspices of the UK Clinical Research Collaboration.

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