Films featuring a scene where someone is smoking should be automatically given a BBFC 18 certificate
It was recently proposed that all films that exhibit anyone smoking should be given an 18 certificate. Is this fair? Is it reasonable? Or is it ludicrous? Could the film industry potentially go up in smoke?
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Tobacco's 'on-screen image' is positive, which endorses this behaviour
Research has found that the number of 'lead' characters that smoke in film and television is about 300% higher that it is for comparable people in reality. What messages are the media sending? By portraying smoking in a positive light are they glorifying tobacco addiction? It has been discovered that non-smoking teens are 16 times more likely to start smoking if they see their favourite characters smoking on screen.
It seems that some enforced regulation is necessary - we don't have a problem holding children back from sex, violence and bad language, so is it really so implausible to propose we stop them from viewing one of the UK's greatest killers as 'cool'?
Despite these statistics seeming very high, it could be easily acknowledged that some characters do smoke in films. However, they are very rarely the iconic characters - they are more often the villainous, malevolent people: the 'baddies' of the film. The type of characters children look up to, the 'model' characters very rarely smoke. How many of the 'Fantastic 4' smoke? None. In fact, how many superheroes smoke? Very few (the only exception I can think of is X-men's Wolverine). I can’t ever imagine Simba, Buzz Lightyear or Pocahontas with a cigarette in their mouth. So it seems that smoking is portrayed negatively in films. Children are far more likely to imitate characters they idolise and have admiration for - not those who participate in destruction and corruption.
Movies = Advertising
Since the advertising of tobacco was banned in 2002 (in the UK) tobacco brands see films as a golden promotional opportunity for them to advertise. Marlboros have featured in over seventy-four of Hollywood's top-grossing movies over the past decade and a half. Films portray and offer morals for their audiences to accept, absorb and maintain - when they are harmful, 'negative' values surely this is immoral and corrupting.
If we take this argument at face value then James Bond Films effectively provide free advertising for Walther handguns as do Dirty Harry movies for Magnum handguns. The presence of a brand in a film goes towards authenticity not promotion.
It is true that films portray morals for their audiences to accept but, there are two responses to this.
(1) Audiences do not do not accept moral positions uncritically and without reason – no one who sees Rambo movies thinks suddenly that mass slaughter is ‘moral’ – just as someone who sees Kate Winslet smoking in Titanic is not persuaded to smoke automatically
(2) You have to prove that seeing someone smoke is corrupting – seeing a hero smoke in a film could just as easily be seen as flaw in his character
Smoking is irrelevant to a film's content
When we leave the cinema or switch off the DVD player we normally share comments like 'the action was really good', or 'she was so funny!' - it's very unlikely that we chat about the smoking content of the film. Most of us have probably never said 'there was some nice smoking in that film'.
So why include and promote this harmful act if it is so unnecessary to film's plot?
The same could easily be said of "adultery" or "speeding".
These are morally or legally questionable acts which are commonly seen in TV or film. Yet it's inconceivable to automatically upgrade them to an 18 certificate.
Film censors are meant to reflect the sensitivities of a "reasonable" citizen.
Banning minors from seeing these things in entertainment is ludicrous given their prevalence in everyday society.
Entertainment should mimic reality, not be forced to misrepresent it, seeing as much of a film's entertainment value can come from all of the minor, seemingly unimportant events. Action and comedy are the hooks, the front of the film; each of the characters' minor qualities, flaws etc, as well as those of the film, are what truly give it an atmosphere.
Increases smoking rates of children
The image of a prominent actor/character smoking on screen may certainly be a causal factor in the decision of children to try smoking. Although substantiating this argument with empirical evidence is difficult, at a personal level, I think witnessing a character whom you admire smoking does impact on your feelings about smoking and may induce you to try it.
This argument is based on the assumption that children are more influenced by actors than good teachers and good parents. Surely the way to prevent children smoking is to be good parents and teachers, providing the children with the necessary information and influencing to not smoke that way. A good parent will have more influence than an actor.
A blanket ban ignores the context of the film: it's ludicrous!
This proposal fails to take in to account any of the film’s other material and content. Think how ridiculous it would be if, for example, Disney’s ‘101 Dalmatians’ were to be given an 18 certificate. Hundreds of family movies would be hindered by this silly regulatory system. If the government feels that smoking is such an issue in films, why not just ‘airbrush’ or edit scenes where smoking can be seen? This is certainly technologically accomplishable. Surely this is much more realistic and frankly, less absurd.
Let’s stub that idea out, shall we?
It is a valid point that it is drastic but think about it...
If there are graphic sex scenes in films, the certificate rating it appropriately 18. This makes sense because being a certificate 15, with the legal age for sex being 16, would be too low to expose 'minors' to the behaviour.
Now, the legal age of smoking is 18...why should films portraying smoking be any lower?
Stub that out!
These certificates are protection, they are not here to make moral judgements and influence under 18s.
Giving a film an 18 certificate protects youths under that age from being exposed to something that they probably would not see or experience from day to day, e.g. extreme violence, certain sexual acts, nudity etc. Smoking is something that under-18s are going to see from day to day on the streets anyway, whether it’s people having a cigarette walking to and from work, people taking a break from work or people socialising. In fact, young people are more likely to see smoking nowadays with the installation of the smoking ban as smokers are all relegated to smoke outside in full view of people rather than in the depths of a pub or bar. Putting an 18 certificate on a film is not going to make any difference to whether under 18s see smoking or not.
Filming is not necessarily irrelevant to a film. Smoking is often featured as part of a character. It can indicate that a person has a nervous habit, lives the sort of lifestyle where one smokes or, in the case of older films, enjoys a pipe or a cigar. It is part of a character portrayed on screen, just as some characters are always wearing certain clothes or holding a drink, some characters are having a smoke. It is completely subjective whether one thinks that is ‘cool’ or not. Under 18s are allowed to decide this for themselves. As mentioned above, the types of characters that do smoke are often villains, gangsters etc. In these cases, the question of showing smoking in a positive light reflects on whether the character is seen in a positive light, which brings up all manner of questions that we are not in a position to judge. It is bordering on fascistic censorship to say, ‘Ah, there’s smoking and it looks cool – they can’t see it.’ These certificates are in place to protect, not influence.
With regards to the influence of tobacco manufacturers in Hollywood, perhaps it is worth taking note of the film ‘Thank You For Smoking’. The protagonist, of course, is a morally dubious man, but in our capitalist world, that is the way of life and tobacco companies need to make money too. Many will argue against the influence of large corporate companies etc. That is irrelevant in this context. Surely, to slap a label on it, saying it is unsuitable for certain ages, implies that younger people do not have the strength of mind to decide that they do or don’t want to smoke for themselves. Just as prohibition made people drink even more, if people try and prevent teenagers from seeing smoking and what it does it will become even more alluring for them. Many would rather they were exposed to smoking and made the decision for themselves rather than be like one of the characters on the film that blames their cancer etc. solely on other people and sees themselves as a powerless victim. This is more a case of seizing your own power of choice and subverting the influence of large tobacco factories, rather than submitting to their influence.
Furthermore, it is deemed inappropriate to show those below the legal age of sexual consent to see graphic sex scenes. Smoking is prevalent on every street corner, by every bar, club and restaurant. Full-frontal sex, except in the dodgiest part of town, is less of an occurrence…
Smoking on film serves as a symbol to imply something about the character
When a character smokes in a film it is usually the director’s way of saying this character is a rebel or is deep in thought or has a chip on their shoulder or is calming down or whatever it may be. Real people in real life smoke and art imitates life to some degree. The symbol of a cigarette is a director’s tool of subconsciously helping you the audience form an opinion of the character. You shouldn't let your prejudices of those who smoke in real life get in the way of your enjoyment of a film or that of others. Film is a powerful tool of expression and a widely entertaining format so by restricting minors from witnessing someone smoking in a fictional environment you are creating restrictions on the director and the kinds of entertainment a young person has available, that is not to say people gain entertainment from witnessing film actors smoking of course. When people are denied things like this it tends to provoke them to do it anyway.
Threat to artistic license
Placing 18 certificates on films showing characters smoking would jeopardise the film makers' artisitc license. The dipiction of characters smoking can be a significant part of the plot, or an important character trait, or used for another artisitc device. Moreover, prohibiting images of smoking in films reduces the range and number of films that can be produced if this local policy becomes a national one.
It would simply force directors to be more creative and adventurous in the creation of their characters, if they cant use smoking then they have to try other things to make the kind of character they want.
To ban the image of characters smoking in films would set a dangerous precedent that we cannot ignore. If this policy becomes national, under-18s all over the country will miss out on the opportunity to see films that they are perfectly within their rights to see. Not only that, many films with characters in them smoking are educational, influencial, or thought provoking. I'm thinking here of relatively new films such as Lord of the Rings, Che, Body of Lies, etc... And why stop there? Why not censor educational films of Churchill smoking, or classics such as Cassablanca? This is a ridiculous policy that is a knee-jerk reaction to a problem that must be addressed directly and not effect the ability of young people to watch films which may very well benefit them.
The proposal from liverpool council would not apply to films which portray historical figures who actually smoked, or those which provide a "clear and unambiguous portrayal of the dangers of smoking, other tobacco use, or second-hand smoke", in other words smoking could still be used so long as there is context for the person smoking, either historically or else in terms of the effects of smoking, would it hurt films to have smoking characters coughing?
Do to underage smoking what you do to underage drinking!
To smoke or not to smoke; that is the point!
Unlike sex or other visually attractive behaviours, smoking is only addictive when you do attempt to smoke, are we saying that we should censor people indulging in smoking because of the celebrity rolemodel's influence on young minds? Then what about the local rolemodel who increasingly smokes in more and more public areas, what about the 16 age restriction on smoking, shouldn't it also be considered?
The banning of all depictions of smokers in films assumes that smoking is always shown as glamorous or attractive
The banning of all depictions of smokers in films assumes that smoking is always shown as glamorous or attractive. This is a fallac,y many films show grotty individuals smoking, or smokers suffering the consequences of their addiction.
As with many freedom of speech issues, if an issue is not shown it risks becoming a subject that simply isn't discussed - and there is nothing more dangerous with a health issue than being uninformed.
Ban the books movies are based on, too?
Most movies are merely dramatized books. We can either keep kids reading 'Dick & Jane' till they're of age or ease them into real life. And real life includes tobacco, a legal, consumable product. In the case of Tolkien's classic LOTR series, some of his characters are seen enjoying life singing, dancing, drinking, and yes, even smoking pipes. Maybe the Yes side has already chimed in on the amount of death and destruction in this series in another discussion, but it's certainly hand-in-hand. Yes, little Jimmy or Sally may be influenced by what their parents allow them to view. But the responsible parent will educate their children and not simply let the rating of a film do it for them.
What do you think?