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Smoke Screen
by Asa Butcher
2010-12-10 09:34:34
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Over the past few months there has been very little to spark my outrage enough to open up a new Word document and begin bashing the keyboard. However, an article about a National Health Service smoking cessation service, based in Plymouth, England, that wants children banned from watching any film containing smoking was too much for this parent.

This NHS group want Plymouth City Council to use its powers to reclassify past classics, such as Disney's 101 Dalmations and Alice in Wonderland, to the highest classification because they argue scenes of characters smoking encourages children to start the habit. Thankfully, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) stated that banning children from films was not the answer to the problem of almost 40% of school-age children in Plymouth smoking regularly.

Research has shown that some children that have been exposed to smoking on television and in films can be influenced, but who are these nicotine-addicted role models? Will a child sneak their first cigarette just because Cruella De Vil is smoking a cigarette in an extra-long cigarette holder or will a teenager be inspired to emulate Gandalf's pipe puffing in the Lord of the Rings trilogy? It is highly unlikely.

Children aren't stupid. If they are going to start smoking or experiment with tobacco then they will be stealing cigarettes from a parent, a relative or friend. If they are influenced by film, then it will be the high profile smoking celebrities, such as Robert Pattinson, Brad Pitt, Robbie Williams, Julia Roberts or Pete Doherty, rather than an animated character from a Disney film or fictional wizard. Most of us have at least tried a cigarette and, at least for me, it was a mix of curiosity and peer pressure - I'm certain that it wasn't a childhood memory of watching Tom and Jerry light up together.

A spokesman from the Plymouth Stop Smoking Service stated that this reclassification of films is not about being a busybody, but about protecting young people from harm. I accept that this is a reasonable argument for their scheme, but if the protection of children is at its heart then why stop at smoking? What about the consumption of alcohol in, say, Disney films? A research paper, entitled "Tobacco and Alcohol Use in G-Rated Children's Animated Films", on the Journal of the American Medical Association website claims alcohol use in 19 of 33 Disney animated films -- 17 of the 33 films feature tobacco use.

I believe that by choosing cinema as the scapegoat once again is lazy and continues this need to offload the responsibility of child-raising from the parents. Smoking in children's films or any feature film isn't the cause of a child's curiosity into cigarettes, any more than Disney Princesses brainwashing little girls into wanting to be subservient little housewives when they grow up. As much as I hate smoking and everything related to it, for once I will defend this filthy habit while it appears in the films my children watch.

Now, where did I put my hookah and Blue caterpillar costume?

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