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Stub out smoking’s ‘coolness’ on screen

Description: Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction

Uma Thurman smoking away in a scene from Pulp Fiction. Source: Supplied

STUBBING out smoking in films aimed at teenagers could help slash the take-up rate of the habit by up to 18 per cent.

Killing the “cool” factor of cigarettes and increasing the classification rating for films depicting smoking would have a dramatic impact on youth tobacco usage, research published in the journal Pediatrics has found.

Cinematic smoking is a potent risk factor for teenagers, with every 500 smoking shots increasing the likelihood of trying a cigarette by up to 49 per cent.

Top grossing films such as Iron Man, Mission Impossible 2, Men In Black and 101 Dalmatians were among the hits watched by the 6500 children in the study.

Last year the animated film Rango was dubbed a public health hazard for featuring characters who smoked at least 60 times.

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The animal cast of The Fantastic Mr Fox were also clocked puffing away more than 50 times.

“Hollywood plays a role by making smoking look really good,” said lead researcher James Sargent, of the Norris Cotton Cancer Centre.

“By eliminating smoking in movies marketed to youth (it would) lower adolescent smoking by as much as one-fifth.”

American films are rated by an industry body while Australian audiences have movies assessed independently by the Classification Board.

Australian classification guidelines “do not specifically identify smoking as a classifiable element” but do consider social issues, a spokesman for the Attorney-General’s Department said yesterday.

Content such as smoking can be referred to consumer advice, he said.

The Australian Council on Children and the Media said smoking, product placement and on-screen violence were concerning issues.

“Our classification system is based on quite old-fashioned notions of what offends sensibilities and not necessarily on what causes harm,” ACCM president Elizabeth Handsley said.

“If we had a system that was based purely on harm and addressed the question of harm thoroughly, rather than as an add-on, we might well see things like smoking treated far more seriously than we currently do.”

Smoking is estimated to cost the national health care system more than $31 billion a year. Just over 60 per cent of smokers first took up the habit when aged between 15-19 years, data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows.

But while researchers urged smoke-heavy flicks be given a higher classification rating, parents also needed to help steer teens away from danger.

“Authoritative parents” who are “effective in monitoring their children” have a strong track record in lowering tobacco use, the study found.

“It is also important to motivate and assist parents in restricting access to these movies, which would further reduce adolescent exposure to onscreen smoking,” the authors wrote.

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