ASH presses British Board of Film Classification to take account of smoking

Tuesday 27 February 2001

Robin Duvall

Director, British Board of Film Classification

3 Soho Square

London W1V 6HD


<spanstyle=’font-size:11.0pt;’>26 February 2001


Dear Mr Duvall


I am writing to bring your attention to newresearch, which will be published tomorrow in the British Medical Journal’s TobaccoControl publication. This research demonstrates that adolescents whosmoke are significantly more likely to have favourite actors who smoke onscreen. This clearly supports the theory that smoking in films, especially bystars who are aspirational role models for teenagers, contributes to teenagesmoking. I am sure you will agree that this research, along with a recentreport in The Lancet on the effects of tobacco product placement infilms, has important implications for the policy of film classification as itapplies to smoking and its effect on teenagers. The majority of smokers beganto experiment with tobacco between the ages of 12 and 14, and it is importantto ensure that they are not persuaded to do so by role models in films.


Given the growing body of research demonstrating alink between smoking in films and the smoking behaviour of young people, ASHfeels that the BBFC must now begin to take much more seriously the issue ofstars’ smoking when classifying films for release. Obviously, no-one would wantto see a total ban on smoking in films, which would be disproportionate andprobably unworkable. However, I believe that the BBFC should now take similaraccount of the likely effect of stars’ smoking on teenage behaviour as it doesof the effect of sexual and violent content on the same age group. There issurely a strong case for upgrading the age classification of a film to at least15 if it features smoking by aspirational role models for young people. Itwould also be appropriate to give at least a 15 certificate to any film whichportrays smoking as an enjoyable, attractive pursuit which makes you look“cool” or adult.


In doing this, the BBFC would be making two valuablecontributions to reducing the damage done by smoking ­ which kills 120,000people each year in the UK. Firstly, it would prevent the promotion of smokingin films to those young people who are too young legally to smoke. Secondly, itwould send a powerful message to the film industry that they should considercarefully the effect on their audience of using cigarettes as a prop or symbolof sophistication or success.


I hope that you will accept this proposal, and Iwould be grateful to have the opportunity to discuss it with you in person inthe near future. I am copying this letter to Tim Baxter at the Department ofHealth and Keith Gibbons at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.


Yours sincerely,







John Connolly

Project Manager, Public Affairs.