British Scientists Bash On-Screen Smoking

By Jennifer Matesa 09/22/11

A striking study calls for smoking scenes to be X-rated in British movie theaters.

Audrey Hepburn: Over 18s-only? Photo via

Movies that show smoking should be re-classified to ban kids under 18 from seeing them, according to a study coming out in next month's Thorax—a British Medical Journal publication. Researchers from Bristol University questioned more than 5,000 English 15-year-olds and found that the more they saw smoking in films, the more likely they were to take up the habit—in fact the scientists found, strikingly, that “viewing smoking in films increases the risk of smoking onset by over 100%.” The correlation was reportedly strong even after adjusting for factors such as peer pressure and parents’ smoking habits. “We saw a linear relationship between adolescent smoking and the number of films they had seen depicting smoking,” said Dr. Andrea Waylen, first author on the study. “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.” Other organizations have joined the call for policy change: “We think films should be reclassified as 18 to protect children and young people from this potentially very hazardous issue,” said Dr. Ailsa Lyons, a public health researcher at the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies. Not everyone agrees. Simon Clark, director of smokers' group Forest, told the BBC: "The idea that films need to be reclassified... is not only patronizing, it is completely unnecessary. Today you would be hard-pressed to find a leading character who smokes... Should government reclassify films that feature fat people as well in case they are bad role models?" But, “It’s children and young people who would be exposed, and people under the age of 18 would still be very likely to start smoking as a result.” said Lyons, who authored a Thorax editorial calling for the British Board of Film Classification to reclassify films showing smoking. “Every day,” it begins, “thousands of children try a cigarette for the first time, a seemingly innocuous step that for many leads to a lifelong and ultimately fatal addiction to smoking.”

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Jennifer Matesa is a Voice Award Fellow at the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and is the author of the blog Guinevere Gets Sober. She is the author of several books, including the non-fiction, The Recovering Body, about physical and spiritual fitness for living clean and sober. You can find Jennifer on Linkedin or follow her on Twitter.