UK films still encouraging teens to light up

Tobacco imagery and product placement in best-selling films is nearly twice as likely to occur in those which originate from the UK than internationally a study by the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies has found.

The research, which looked at the 15 most commercially successful films in the UK each year from 1989, aimed to explore how often young people were exposed to smoking and tobacco products in such films.

The team reviewed 300 films in total and carefully recorded how often tobacco use and smoking paraphernalia, such as cigarette packs, lighters, ashtrays, or a specific brand, made an appearance.

Tobacco, or tobacco by association, appeared in 70 per cent of the films reviewed and over half of these films were given a ‘15’ classification by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), meaning they were deemed as suitable viewing for young people aged 15 and over. 

Ailsa Lyons, a PhD student at the Centre who led the study, said: “Since the majority of smokers become addicted in their teens, measures to prevent exposure of young people to tobacco products and positive role models in films are especially important.”

Co-author Professor John Britton added: “It is well established that tobacco companies used films to promote tobacco products for many years, and that adolescents who view tobacco use in film and who admire the lead actors whose characters smoke, were likely to view smoking favourably.” 

Although brand appearances were relatively rare, Silk Cut and Marlboro were the brands which made the most appearances and, significantly, the majority of films where actual brands were on view were in those with a BBFC 15 classification.

The most Silk Cut appearances occurred in Bridget Jones’ Diary and About a Boy and Marlboro appeared six times in one scene alone in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (partly made in the UK).

Alisa Lyons added: “While the study found that over the course of the 20 year period there has been decline in the use of tobacco imagery, the fact that it continues to occur indicates that the BBFC is failing to protect those susceptible to tobacco imagery and smoking uptake – children and young people.”

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