The UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies has called for all movies featuring smoking to be rated for adults only in Great Britain unless there’s a good reason for the characters to be lighting up. But UK film censor David Cooke tells me there’s no public support. The disagreement comes on the heels of a just-published Bristol University study that questioned 5,000 UK 15-year-olds and analyzed some of the top U.S. movies released here from 2001-05 that depict smoking. Researchers say that half of those movies are rated UK15 or below, exposing children and teenagers to tobacco addiction. “Smoking in films remains a major and persistent driver of smoking uptake among children and young people, which the actions of irresponsible filmmakers, incompetent regulators and insouciant politicians are abjectly failing to control,” study co-authors John Britton and Alison Lyons write. The report highlighted Avatar and the Robert Pattinson romance Remember Me, both rated 12A in the UK, as particularly striking examples of characters smoking for no reason. Avatar, set 143 years in the future, shows Sigourney Weaver emerging from her sleep pod on another planet and barking, “Who’s got my goddamned cigarette?” while Pattinson smokes pretty much throughout a movie aimed at teenage girls.
According to medical journal Thorax, teenagers who watch movies showing actors smoking are much more likely to take it up. But pro-smoking lobby Forest says reclassifying films in order to create a smoke-free world for older children is “patronizing.” Bruce Willis is one Hollywood star who has accepted the link between smoking and the movies, though. He stopped his John McClane character from smoking in Die Hard 4 because “I didn’t want to feel responsible for any kid smoking to try to look cool because he thought I looked cool doing it.”