Movies depicting smoking should be given ‘adult rating’: WHO

Movies which contain smoking scenes or tobacco imagery "should be given an adult rating", the World Health Organization (WHO) announced in a new report, in a bid to remove the perceived glamour of the practice.

With film awards season in full swing, WHO are calling on governments to tackle the use of tobacco products in movies in an effort to prevent the younger generation from taking up the habit.

George Peppard and Martin Balsam compete to light Audrey Hepburn's cigarette at a formal party. Still taken from "Breakfast at Tiffany's."
Paramount Pictures | Moviepix | Getty Images
George Peppard and Martin Balsam compete to light Audrey Hepburn's cigarette at a formal party. Still taken from "Breakfast at Tiffany's."

When the third edition of WHO's "Smoke-free movies: From evidence to action" report was released Monday, the U.N. agency cited statistics that claim 44 percent of all Hollywood movies in 2014 featured smoking, while 36 percent of films with tobacco use were rated for young people.

In fact, according to studies in the U.S., on-screen smoking has allegedly accounted for 37 percent of all new adolescent smokers.

"Because smoking on screen is uniquely vivid and because young people see so many films so often, its effect in promoting smoking initiation is striking," the report said.

"The most vulnerable age group, adolescents, should not continue to be exposed to the most powerful promotional channel for smoking imagery available in today's globalized economy."

When referring to "adult rating", WHO confirmed to CNBC that this meant films with smoking scenes should be viewed only by those who are 18 and older.

Potential exceptions within the proposed measure includes older films, such as those "Film Noir" classics starring Humphrey Bogart, which wouldn't need to be re-rated, but may require warnings labels on DVDs and videos.

Other possible exceptions include actual historical figures who smoked; and when smoking is used in a film which clearly identifies the dangerous ramifications of tobacco use. However, the report does not cover e-cigarettes.

On top of the 18 rating, WHO also recommends films should disclose and certify that producers did not receive anything of value from any tobacco company, during the film credits.

Other suggested measures in the report include no longer displaying tobacco brands; airing anti-smoking advertisements—played on any distribution channel—prior to films that include tobacco imagery; and withdrawing state or lottery funding from productions which promote smoking.

"The measures have enormous potential for averting the growing burden of disease due to tobacco use, particularly in low- and middle-income countries," the report added.

Indian school children hold a placard showing actor Salman Khan smoking, as they take part in a rally (June 2005), supporting the stand taken by India's Government which has banned smoking in films and television.
Sebastian D'Souza | AFP | Getty Images
Indian school children hold a placard showing actor Salman Khan smoking, as they take part in a rally (June 2005), supporting the stand taken by India's Government which has banned smoking in films and television.

Calls for bans on smoking in films has been widely discussed in recent years. In 2005, India's government amended its 2003 Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Act, to ensure that all depictions of tobacco products and their use in both film and television were prohibited.

In 2011, China's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) issued a notice, which asked producers to minimize scenes and plot lines involving the use of smoking, with additional strict controlling measures on both film and television too.

The U.S., U.K. and other countries have also taken steps into reducing the frequency of smoking in the media space. While some countries have implemented policy measures, WHO said that voluntary and self-regulatory measures have not been successful and "more can and must be done."

By CNBC's Alexandra Gibbs, follow her @AlexGibbsy and @CNBCi