New findings: Children are up to 6 times more likely to smoke if they see a lot of smoking on screen. ASH calls for ‘smoking’ films to get a 15 certificate.

Thursday 13 December 2001

Embargo: 00:01, Friday 14 December 2001

New Findings: Seeing smoking in films means children are more likely to smoke. ASH calls for ‘smoking’ films to be classed a “15”.

Children who have watched a lot of smoking in films are up to 6 times more likely to be smokers themselves than those who have seen less smoking, according to new research published today in the British Medical Journal [1]. The study, of 4919 American school children aged 9-15, showed that the more smoking children see in films, the more likely  they are to be smokers themselves. For instance, of those who had seen 50 or fewer instances of smoking in films, only 4.9% had tried smoking, compared with 31.5% of those who had seen more than 150 instances of smoking, even when other factors linked with adolescent smoking were taken into account.

This study adds to a growing body of evidence supporting the idea that what young people see on screen affects the likelihood of them smoking. In February this year, researchers showed that teenagers whose favourite movie stars smoked in their films were more likely to be smokers [2], and in January The Lancet published a report about the impact of product placement (when tobacco manufacturers pay to have their products featured or for actors to smoke in films). [3] In the light of this new evidence, ASH has renewed its calls for the British Board of Film Classification to take the amount and nature of smoking in films into account when deciding what certificate to award – giving a “15” Certificate to films which feature smoking by aspirational role models – such as megastar young actors.

John Connolly, Public Affairs Manager for ASH said:

“These young people may be copying their favourite stars’ smoking or they might be more likely to watch movies which make them feel comfortable about smoking, but either way it suggests that smoking on screen nurtures and sustains smoking among teenage movie fans – and everybody should be worried about that.

 We don’t want to censor directors and actors by banning smoking in films by law, but we think they need to recognise the impact they have on their young fans and think about the harm they are doing. The best way of doing that is by letting them know that, by getting their stars to smoke, they might be limiting the audience for their films.

The British Board of Film Classification should now sit up and take notice of this growing body of evidence. Classifying films as a “15” if they have a lot of smoking in them by stars who are role models, adding nothing to the plot, would send a powerful message to writers and directors. It will tell them that if they want to use cigarettes as a prop in their films, there might be a price to pay”.



[1] Sargent J et al. Effect of Seeing tobacco use in films on trying smoking among adolescents: cross-sectional study. British Medical Journal Volume 323, pp 1394-7

[2] Tickle J. et al Favourite movie stars, their tobacco use in contemporary movies, and its association with adolescent smoking. Tobacco Control 2001; 10: 16-22

[3] See Product placement in films shows tobacco companies still up to their old marketing tricks, ASH press release – 05 January 2001