A new BMA report launched on Sunday 6 July 2008 calls on the UK Governments to introduce a range of tough measures aimed at reducing young people's exposure to positive images of smoking.
The proposals include calling on film censors to take pro-smoking content into account when classifying films and introducing laws so that all films and TV programmes which portray positive images of smoking are preceded by an anti-smoking advert.
In its report, 'Forever Cool', the BMA challenges the UK Governments to demonstrate their commitment to protecting children's health by introducing policies that will help reduce smoking prevalence with the aim of making the UK tobacco-free by 2035.
Most smokers start before the age of 18 and virtually all do so by the time they are 25 years old - this makes young people a key target group for the tobacco industry, says the report. 'Forever Cool' goes on to conclude that young people are greatly influenced by their sense of what is normal and attractive, especially the images they see in films and magazines, and on the internet. The fact that over a fifth of the population still smoke and others continue to take up the habit only serves to normalise it and encourage the onset of smoking.
BMA Head of Science and Ethics, Dr Vivienne Nathanson, said:
"During the last decade we have seen a number of encouraging developments in tobacco regulation that include the introduction of smokefree legislation throughout the UK. However, the long-term trends for people quitting have slowed down in recent years so it is essential that further action is taken to promote a tobacco-free lifestyle that deglamourises smoking.
"Young people are surrounded by positive images of tobacco - from smoking by parents and peers, to celebrities and role models they see in the media. They are also exposed to robust tobacco industry marketing - all this serves to reinforce the habit as being 'forever cool'.
The BMA report shows that despite some of the most restrictive tobacco legislation in the world, young people in the UK are still exposed to creative marketing strategies such as elaborate point-of-sale displays, attractive pack designs and evocative brand imagery. There is also very little regulation of the internet which is commonly used by young people.
Dr Nathanson added:
"Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable ill-health and death in the UK and children will only be truly protected from it when the UK is tobacco-free. We all have a role to play in protecting children and young people and the UK Governments must act now to introduce policies that will limit young people's exposure to pro-smoking imagery, thereby helping to prevent a new generation falling victim to tobacco addiction."
Key recommendations from the report include:
- The UK Governments should reduce tobacco marketing opportunities by:
- compelling outlets selling tobacco to get a license to do so
- prohibiting the display of tobacco products at the point-of-sale
- ending the sale of tobacco from vending machines
- introducing plain packaging on cigarette packets with only the brand name and health warnings
- setting minimum price levels for tobacco products.
- The UK Governments should implement educational programmes aimed at informing those involved in the production of entertainment media of the potential damage done by the depiction of smoking.
- The British Board of Film Classification should take pro-smoking content into consideration for the classifications of films, videos and digital material in the UK. This should consider whether the depiction of smoking is condoned, encouraged or glamorised in the absence of editorial justification.
- All films and television programmes which portray positive images of smoking should be preceded by an anti-smoking advertisement.
- The UK Governments should implement a sustained population-wide communications programme promoting anti-smoking messages and imagery.
The UK Governments should develop a tobacco control strategy with the aim of making the UK tobacco-free by 2035.