Movies hook millions of young people on tobacco – new WHO report says films with smoking scenes should be rated ‘R’


The World Health Organization (WHO), in a report released today, is calling on governments to assign “R” ratings to movies that portray tobacco use, to reduce the chances of children and adolescents from starting to smoke cigarettes and use other forms of tobacco.

Movies showing tobacco use have enticed millions of young people worldwide to start smoking, according to the new WHO Smoke-Free Movies Report – From evidence to action, the third edition since its launch in 2009.

“With ever-tighter restrictions on tobacco advertising, film remains one of the last channels exposing millions of adolescents to smoking imagery without restrictions,” says Dr. Douglas Bettcher, WHO Director of the Department of Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases.

Taking concrete steps such as rating films with tobacco scenes and displaying tobacco warnings before films with tobacco can stop children around the world from being introduced to tobacco products and subsequent tobacco-related addiction, disability and death.

“Smoking in films can be a strong form of promotion for tobacco products,” adds Bettcher. “The 180 Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) are obliged by international law to ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.”

Studies in the United States have shown that 37% of new adolescent smokers began smoking as a result of viewing tobacco use in movies. In 2014, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that in the United States alone, exposure to on-screen smoking would recruit more than 6 million new, young smokers from among American children in 2014, of which 2 million would ultimately die from tobacco-induced diseases.

In 2014, smoking was found in 44% of all Hollywood films, and 36% of films rated for young people. Almost two-thirds (59%) of top-grossing films featured tobacco imagery between 2002 and 2014. That same year, the U.S. Surgeon General reported that adult ratings of future films with smoking would reduce smoking rates among young people in the USA by nearly one-fifth and avert 1 million tobacco-related deaths among today’s children and adolescents.

Many films produced outside of the United States also contain smoking scenes. Surveys have shown that tobacco imagery was found in top-grossing films produced in six European countries (Germany, Iceland, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom), and two Latin American countries (Argentina and Mexico). Nine in 10 movies from Iceland and Argentina contain smoking, including films rated for young people, the report states.

On-screen smoking in movies is a form of tobacco promotion, and guidelines for implementing bans on advertising, promotion and sponsorship say they should be prohibited. “In the Americas, banks on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship have advanced very little in the last decade,” said Dr. Adriana Blanco, regional advisor for tobacco control at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), WHO’s Regional Office for the Americas

“Only five countries—Brazil, Colombia, Panama, Suriname and Uruguay—ban all forms of direct and indirect advertising, which is the most effective way to stop the influence of the tobacco industry. The rest only ban certain kind of advertising or ban nothing at all. Even countries that do prohibit showing tobacco products or tobacco brands on television or in movies find it hard to implement because of the large number of foreign productions that are shown,” Blanco noted.

Tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship are effective tactics used by the tobacco industry to recruit new smokers, by making tobacco use look normal and desirable. Young people and women have become a key target audience for the industry in its efforts to survive.

The WHO Smoke-Free Movie report, in line with the guidelines of article 13 of the WHO FCTC, recommends policy measures including:
• Requiring “Adult ”age classification ratings for films with tobacco imagery to reduce overall exposure of youth to tobacco imagery in films;
• Certifying in movie credits that film producers receive nothing of value from anyone in exchange for using or displaying tobacco products in a film;
• Ending display of tobacco brands in films;
• Requiring strong anti-smoking advertisements to be shown before films containing tobacco imagery in all distribution channels (cinemas, televisions, online, etc).

In addition, the report also recommends making media productions that promote smoking ineligible for public subsidies.



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