This sounds like Government hype trying to make us forget
about Iraq for a while. Blair blaming smoking movie actors is
particularly put in his place by the observation that heroic characters
rarely smoke anyway. Society is moving at a reasonably rapid pace towards
frowning on smokers anyway. Current self censorship by producers hardly
necessitates further state nannying.
The BBFC are considering new measures to protect children's health by
clamping down on Hollywood scenes of drinking and smoking, The Independent
on Sunday has learnt.
In future, tobacco and alcohol could be included alongside sex and
violence when the film board classifies new movies - a step which could ban
children from watching films where heavy smoking is portrayed.
The film industry has become the latest front in the battle over
cigarettes. Government proposals enabling local authorities to impose
workplace smoking bans, first reported in this newspaper, were backed by
Tony Blair last week. Research suggests children are nearly three times as
likely to try tobacco if they regularly watch movie actors smoke, with films
exerting a more powerful influence than tobacco advertising.
John Reid, the Secretary of State for Health, signalled his personal
scepticism over the plans, however, when he said that smoking had become a
"middle-class obsession". And those fearing the resurgence of a nanny state
will be dismayed to learn that the habit faces the censor's blade.
The BBFC has included smoking and drinking in a list of activities that
could be covered in new guidelines for age restrictions that will come into
force later this year. A final decision on whether films that include
smoking will be rated at 15-plus is expected within the next few months
following a consultation exercise.
British cinema-goers have been asked whether they believe smoking and
drinking should fall under the censor's axe. The BBFC said it was reviewing
its classification guidelines earlier this year. Robin Duval, the board
director said, it wanted to check public views on bad language, sex and
violence in films.
However, the body later quietly added a number of other issues, including
smoking and drinking, before starting the exercise in which 10,000 people
have been asked for their views. Among the questions asked is whether only
the "hero" of a film should be seen smoking or whether no smoking should be
shown at all.
The initiative has received a mixed response from film critics, who
raised the possibility of "anachronistic film- making" where scenes set in
the 1940s or 50s would show no one smoking.
The film critic Barry Norman, said:
It would be the most unbelievable
piece of censorship. At the moment Bruce Willis is the only leading man I
can think of who smokes on screen. The only other people who smoke
cigarettes are villains - that's how you know they are the villain, when
they light up.
But the Oscar-winning film producer Lord Puttnam was delighted with the
BBFC's proposals. As a lifetime non- smoker and somebody who has lost
family members to smoking-related illnesses I think it is all to the good.
When I was at Columbia, I stopped scenes showing people snorting cocaine in
two films. I have never regretted it.
The BBFC is also consulting on whether "racial or religious references
which might be offensive to some people" should be considered by the censors
when it comes to rating a film.
Sue Clark, the body's head of communications, said it was too early to
say what the results of the survey showed but that they would help frame the
new rules. One consequence could be an automatic 18-plus restriction on all
cinema alcohol advertisements to protect children from being targeted.
Although the explicit portrayal of smoking in children's films was rare,
it did occur, she said, citing Glenn Close's Cruella de Vil in 101
The depiction of smoking on television is covered by an Office of
Communications code. It states that its portrayal should be avoided in
children's programmes and only included in other material "where context or
dramatic veracity requires it". Broadcasters should also take care not to
portray smoking as an "attractive activity".