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Media representation

This section covers guidelines for the portrayal of smoking in the media.

The Office of Communications (Ofcom)

Ofcom is the UK’s communications regulator with a statutory obligation to protect the under-18s. Ofcom’s 2021 guidelines on representation of smoking on TV, radio, and on-demand programmes aimed at children state that smoking (as well as drugs, solvents and alcohol):

  • must not be featured in programmes made primarily for children unless there is strong editorial justification;
  • must generally be avoided and in any case must not be condoned, encouraged or glamorised in other programmes broadcast before the watershed (in the case of television), when children are particularly likely to be listening (in the case of radio), or when content is likely to be accessed by children (in the case of BBC ODPS) unless there is editorial justification;
  • must not be condoned, encouraged or glamorised in other programmes likely to be widely seen, heard or accessed by under-eighteens unless there is editorial justification.

British Board of Film Classification (BBFC)

The BBFC is a self-regulatory body which provides age classifications for:

  • films, trailers and advertisements on behalf of local authorities who license cinemas under the Licensing Act 2003
  • video works distributed on physical media under the Video Recordings Act 1984
  • video works which are distributed over the internet under a voluntary, self-regulatory service
  • commercial and internet content distributed via mobile networks under a voluntary, self-regulatory service

Classification guidelines are revised every 4-5 years following public consultation. The 2019 guidelines state that, “Where smoking, alcohol abuse or substance misuse feature to a significant extent in works which appeal to children, this will normally be indicated in ratings info. Classification decisions will also take into account any promotion or glamorisation of such activities.”