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Butt out, Cruella: Should movies with smoking be rated R? Add to ...

Forget taking your seven-year-old to 101 Dalmatians. Or your 14-year-old to any Lord of the Rings movie.

New research published in the British Medical Journals argues young viewers should banned at the door.

A new study suggests that the sight of Gandalf hauling on his pipe (let alone having fun making pirate ships from the smoke) or Cruella de Vil dangling her cigarette might be enough to make them take up the habit themselves. The article makes the case for movies that depict any kind of smoking to be automatically slapped with an 18 rating in Britain, similar to those that portray sex or violence. That rating would prevent anyone under the age of 18 from seeing the film in the theatre, as well as renting or buying it

on DVD. (It’s even stricter than Canada’s restricted rating, which allows kids under 18 to attend the flick with an adult.)

Researchers from the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies, who authored the report, cite a survey of 5,000 teenagers that found, for example, that 15-year-olds were 73 per cent more likely to try smoking if they had seen more movies with actors puffing away, as opposed to peers who had watched fewer portrayals. In the survey, respondents were asked if they’d seen 50 movies, randomly chosen from a list with titles such as the Matrix and Bridget-Jones. Overall, teenagers who checked off more movies on the list were also 50 per cent more likely to be smokers.

The researchers argue that smoking in the movies is “not consistent” with Britain’s bans on smoking in public, and that raising the rating for those movies was likely to lower smoking rates in youth.

“Films ought to be rated by exposure to smoking in the same way that they are currently rated by level of violence,” Andrea Waylen, a researcher at the University of Bristol’s school of oral dental sciences, told the Guardian.

So far, the British Film Board has stood by its rating system, arguing there’s no public appetite for the change. As one columnist with the Telegraph observed: it’s not as if smoking is the only bad habit that looks more glamorous on the big screen. “Shooting someone with a handgun always looks like a right hoot in the movies, as does group sex, organized crime and being in a relationship with Jennifer Lopez,” quipped Robbie Collin, one of the paper’s film critics.

Earlier this year, China, though hardly a beacon of artistic freedom to start with, led the way with a crack down on smoking in movies and television. The government news agency cited a survey of 11,000 Beijing students which found that more than 30 per cent wanted to try smoking after seeing actors light up on TV.

The good news in Canada: according to a September report from Statistics Canada, smoking rates are lower than ever, even among teenagers between the age of 15 and 17, whose usage fell to 9 per cent, the lowest rate since the data was first collected in 1999. The bad news: you might want to toss your new DVD of Rango

in the trash.

Is smoke on the big screen an enticement to take up the habit? Should movies that depict smoking get the restricted rating?

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Follow on Twitter: @ErinAnderssen

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