Smoking in films 'encourages teenagers to take it up'


Film critic Jason Solomons and researcher Ailsa Lyons debate smoking in films

Related Stories

Teenagers who watch films showing actors smoking are more likely to take it up, new UK research suggests.

Experts who made the link by questioning 5,000 15-year-olds say their findings should prompt a change in film certification so that under-18s are no longer exposed to such images.

The Bristol University investigators say a precautionary approach is needed.

But pro-smoking choice campaigners say this is unjustified and nonsensical.

They say there is no proof that what a person views at the cinema or on DVD influences their decision about whether or not to smoke.

Social background

The latest research, published in the journal Thorax, looked at the potential influence of some of the 360 top US box office films released between 2001 and 2005, including movies like Spider-Man, Bridget Jones and The Matrix, that depict smoking.

Start Quote

More than half of the films shown in the UK that contain smoking are rated UK15 or below, so children and young teenagers are clearly exposed”

End Quote Lead researcher Dr Andrea Waylen

Adolescents who saw the most films depicting smoking were 73% more likely to have tried a cigarette than those exposed to the least. And they were 50% more likely to be a current smoker.

Knowing that smoking attitudes are influenced by factors such as whether an individual's parents and peers smoke, the researchers also gathered data about the adolescents' social background.

Even after controlling for these variables, these teenagers were still 32% more likely to have tried a cigarette themselves, they said.

'Harmful imagery'

Dr Andrea Waylen, who led the research, said: "We saw a linear relationship between adolescent smoking and the number of films they had seen depicting smoking.

"More than half of the films shown in the UK that contain smoking are rated UK15 or below, so children and young teenagers are clearly exposed."

She said raising certification to 18 was necessary in the UK and would lower youth smoking rates.

The UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies has written to the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) asking it to do just this to protect children from "particularly harmful imagery".

BBFC film certification

  • U - Suitable for all audiences
  • PG - General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
  • 12/12A - 12 suitable for 12 years and older; 12A under 12s must be accompanied by an adult
  • 15 Suitable for 15 and over
  • 18 Suitable for 18s and over

Both U (universal) and PG (parental guidance) film ratings proscribe "potentially dangerous behaviour which young children are likely to copy". This includes drug misuse but not cigarette smoking.

David Cooke, director of the BBFC, said: "Smoking is a major public health issue and we consulted the public very extensively on it in 2005 and 2009. Their clear expectation is that we should be vigilant, sensible and proportionate in how we deal with the issue.

"Glamorising smoking has therefore been included as a classification issue in our published classification guidelines and we frequently use our extended classification information to draw the attention of parents and others to depictions of smoking in films.


"There is, however, no public support for automatically classifying, for instance, a PG film at 18 just because it happens to contain a scene of smoking. We always look carefully at all research on this and related subjects drawn to our attention.

"Experience suggests, with media effects research generally, that attempts to claim a causal link between a particular depiction and a particular behaviour are often disputed and seldom conclusive."

Simon Clark, director of the smokers' group Forest, said: "The idea that films need to be reclassified in order to create a utopian, smoke-free world for older children is not only patronising, it is completely unnecessary.

"Today you would be hard-pressed to find a leading character who smokes in any top 10 box office movie.

"What next? Should government reclassify films that feature fat people as well in case they are bad role models?

"We go to the cinema to escape from the nanny state. The tobacco control industry should butt out and take its authoritarian agenda elsewhere."


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    With many pareants, already smoking, and the inmature wanting and even encouraged to try/experience things, I do not believe it will achieve much. Adertising as such is not about watching, but familiarity of brand names, using colours, type casing, even familirairities of places and names attached to the act. Today many adults will still remember place and names attached to marborough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    @206.Mr Max

    I didn't say it was the only reason, unlike your generalising "Cool" statement. But if what I said was addressed then you could almost guarantee there would be fewer young smokers out there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    People complaining about smoking which is bad, what puts me of is when my kids must see same sex kissing on TV.

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    @203 Apologies to the BBC - I missed the link to the journal, which at least gives access to the abstract, and this answers some of my questions.

    "After controlling for age, gender, family affluence, school performance, television screen time, number of movies seen, sensation seeking and rebelliousness and smoking within the social environment (peers, parents and siblings)...."

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    202. BootRap
    Here's 3 reasons why young people smoke -

    No hope of prosperity,
    No stake in society,
    No point in trying."


    Absolute rubbish!!!

    Here's one reason kids start smoking:

    1) The "It seems cool" factor outweighs the danger factor in their eyes.

    I've known 15-16 year olds smoke, and they range from the poorest to the wealthiest families I've known.

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    I'd wager if they picked 360 movies that didn't contain smoking, the smokers would have seen more have them, proving that smokers watch more movies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    It would be highly unrealistic if films never showed any characters smoking, particularly as many films feature the criminal underworld, and the majority of criminals smoke.
    But films still tend to show an uncommonly large proportion of smokers amongst middle class professionals - which may be accurate for films set in the 1950s or 60s, but is certainly not true today - surely product placement?

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    There are potentially so many things wrong with an analysis that draws a causitive conclusion from a linear relationship that it would have been useful to provide a link to the original paper. Was this compared against teens who watched films of a broadly similar type that didn't include smoking?

    Please BBC. A link to the original paper in ALL reports on academic findings.

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    Here's 3 reasons why young people smoke -

    No hope of prosperity,
    No stake in society,
    No point in trying.

    Address these issues and we may just see a change!

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    199. Sylvia D
    "oh for goodness sake , thousands of films have been made before the pc brigade came into being ! (when was that )"
    The "PC brigade" is a moronic stereotype from moronic newspapers for moronic people.

    There is no "PC brigade" in the real world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    @192 151179

    People do not always use logical reasoning. To give an example: Smoking is bad, you smoke therefore you must be bad. Same with obesity. Sadly you`re right, policy is dictated by who shouts the loudest unfortunately and they always like to play the vicim when in reality it`s the polar opposite.One day they will wake up, when it affects them, but by then it will be too late.

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    oh for goodness sake , thousands of films have been made before the pc brigade came into being ! (when was that ) if kids don`t know that smoking is bad for you blame the parents, blame the fact they cant read articles telling them its bad for them , but just leave folk alone to make their own minds up how they live their lives .

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    186 - "She said raising certification to 18 was necessary in the UK and would lower youth smoking rates"

    Now call me thick but I read that as saying smoking should require an 18 certificate which for a classic children's cartoon such as Tom and Jerry would mean effectively banning it for children, its main audience

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    and then we'll start classifying films based on quantity of junk food eaten, quality of driving standards, amount of time spent sunbathing etc etc.
    This is a slippery slope .. good on the BBFC for resisting (so far) this "organisation's" attempt to make a name for itself and take over a bit more of my life/decision-making.

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    I didn't start smoking until I was 20 even though my family and friends did while growing up, films and tv had no effect on my decision. The fact is that if the government gave even a hoot about our health they would ban tobacco today but they earn far too much money from it to worry about such trivial things.

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    I can't believe that people can be so narrow minded to think that this is true, my mother, grandmother, grandfather, great aunt, great uncle and just about everyone I knew smoked, I tried it once at age 14 didn't like it and now at 43 am still a non smoker. I watch films & television but I have made my own choice, please give people credit for making their own life choices!!

  • Comment number 194.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    One other point and that is this, is the comparison with teenagers who go to the cinema against those who still go out in social groups with their peers or does it include those that don't that stay at home, play computer games, watch TV etc. Because if it is not all it does is suggest that teenagers that go out on their own are more likely to smoke than those that stay at home. No brainer

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    170.corncobuk "FelixQui's comment says more about him as a human being than about obese"
    Explain the number of recommendations it received then. 81%of UK public have been brainwashed by articles like this into favouring laws against fat folk. State discrimination against those they've labelled 'pariahs' is just around the corner, and by the time the sheeple wake up they'll be on the hitlist too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    It's not the movies. It's the parent's education and guidance (or lack of it) that make the difference. Stop banning things!


Page 10 of 20


More Health stories



Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.