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Friday, 26 September 2008

Hollywood stars paid a small fortune to “light up” the big screen

It probably comes as little surprise to most of us to discover that film stars of the 1930s and 40s were paid vast sums of money, to promote smoking and particular brands of cigarettes. Apparently, one tobacco firm paid more than $3m in today's money in one year, to stars like Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy, Joan Crawford, John Wayne, Bette Davis and Betty Grable.

Of course, back then, the health risks now associated with smoking weren’t really known and with such celebrity endorsements it was the “done thing” to be seen with a cigarette in hand.

Perhaps the surprising finding from this research is the fact that today, despite all the warnings that “smoking kills”, characters smoking in films can still influence young people to take up the deadly habit. It was for this very reason that the BMA released its “Forever Cool” report earlier this year, calling on film censors to take pro-smoking content into account when classifying films.

And it’s not just the big screen where youngsters can see famous faces lighting up. It’s closer to home too, on the small screen, in their living room. There are still many characters in popular soaps such as Coronation Street (Liz McDonald, Deirdre Barlow, Lloyd Mullaney) and Eastenders (Pat Butcher), who can seen smoking, it being part of their everyday life. These shows are on way before the watershed and are instantly accessible to teenagers. That’s why, as part of our “Forever Cool” report the BMA’s called for the following;

• 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.

And while on the subject of smoking, BMA Cymru Wales welcomes the imminent move to place graphic images on cigarette packets. The written warnings have been around for 5 years now and as such, their impact will have decreased over time. Also, simply reading about the potential harm smoking can have, isn’t always a strong enough deterrent. But actually being able to see it, may make the message hit home that much harder, particularly with young people, who may think twice before emulating their screen idols.

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