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Study shows smoking on screen can seriously influence teenagers to take up the habit

Smoking remains the single greatest preventable cause of mortality in Europe. Becoming addicted to cigarettes can lead to all kinds of diseases including cancer, especially lung cancer.

Watching a film in which people smoke may encourage especially young people to light up a cigarette and become addicts for life – warns the World Health Organization, calling upon countries to enact enforceable policies that would severely restrict such depictions

The project Smoking in Movies, funded by the EU Health Programme, provided additional evidence on the association between smoking in films and smoking uptake of young people, based on a study conducted in Germany, Iceland, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. The group of European researchers recommends a strengthened EU cooperation by enforcing existing legislation on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and by including clear rules and guidelines on rating movies based on smoking scenes. Currently, there is no consistent approach within the EU, although most films are distributed in all countries and in all languages.

71% of films analysed contained smoking scenes

Within the project, more than 16 000 young people aged 12–15 years were asked which of the commercially most successful films of the past five years they had seen. Subsequently, all films mentioned by them were analysed for tobacco scenes. One result was that 71% of the box-office hits of the years 2004–2009 contained at least one smoking scene. And the more films with smoking scenes a young person had seen, the higher the likelihood that they started to smoke.

The project also revealed that smoking scenes in films are currently not taken into account in the movie ratings systems of the participating countries. European teenagers have easier access to movies, including movies that portray smoking, than teenagers in the USA.

The project concluded that changing the film rating system to take into account smoking images would be an effective method of reducing child and adolescent exposure to smoking without interfering with film content. ‘This could reduce future social and economic costs for all EU countries’, says Reiner Hanewinkel, coordinator of the Smoking in Movies project.

By conducting the study at EU level, the researchers found that the association between watching people smoke in movie scenes and young people trying cigarettes is present across European countries. The study confirmed the need to act on a larger scale, as it is a global effect.

For more information:

Smoking in Movies Project

European Commission Public Health – Tobacco

EU Health Programme

Health-EU – Tobacco

Ex-Smokers are unstoppable campaign