In the same way that films depicting graphic violence, sex and drug-taking are classed as only suitable for adults to watch, new research has been published which suggests that films with scenes of smoking in should also be given an 18 rating in order to reduce the risk of influencing children.
The research, carried out by the UK Centre of Tobacco Control Studies and published in the Thorax journal, showed that out of 5,000 adolescents, those who had watched films with smoking in were 73% more likely to have tried smoking than those who hadn't seen smoking in films.
The teenagers were asked whether they had watched certain films such as Spider-Man, Bridget Jones's Diary and The Matrix. The teens who had seen the most films which showed smoking were 50% more likely to be smokers than those who had seen fewer films with smoking in.
Dr Andrea Waylen, from the University of Bristol's School of Oral and Dental Sciences, who led the research, said: "More than half the films shown in the UK that contain smoking are rated 15 or below, so children and young teenagers are clearly exposed.
"Our results confirm an association between this exposure and youth smoking in this country, indicating that raising the certification to 18 in the UK is likely to lower smoking rates among youth.
"Given that smoking depictions in films are not consistent with the ban on smoking in public places in the UK and that the relationship may be causal, a precautionary principle should be pursued. Films ought to be rated by exposure to smoking in the same way that they are currently rated by level of violence."
Following the publication of the research, the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies has requested the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) to raise the rating of films portraying smoking to 18 in order to protect children from "particularly harmful imagery".
Under the Video Recordings Act 1984, the BBFC is obliged to consider issues portrayed in films that might be harmful for younger viewers. This includes criminal behaviour, illegal drugs, violent behaviour or incidents, horrific behaviour or incidents and sex.
David Cooke, director of the BBFC, said: "Glamorising smoking has been included as a classification issue in our published classification guidelines. 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."
Pro-smoking groups have been quick to condemn the recommendations. Simon Clark of 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."
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