The CEA has called on Liverpool City Council to reject proposals which would require filsm shown in cinemas in the city and depicting scenes of smoking to be given an ’18’ classification.

Liverpool City Council Licensing Authority is currently consulting on a proposed amendment to its Licensing Policy which would essentially require all new films exhibited at local cinemas and containing images of smoking to be given an “18” classification.

The CEA strongly opposes these plans.

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has responsibility for classifying films. Its guidelines already allow the potential impact of scenes of smoking on audiences to be taken into account when deciding on a film certificate. Furthermore where such scenes feature to a significant extent, this will normally be indicated in the Consumer Advice and/or Extended Classification Information freely available to customers before they attend the cinema.

The BBFC notes that throughout the time that these provisions have been in place, it has yet to find one film which it judged to promote smoking. It is also clear that as public attitudes to smoking change – and the ability to smoke in public places in both the UK and US is increasingly restricted – then scenes of smoking being depicted in anything other than a historical setting are becoming increasingly rare.

The CEA believes that there is no strong evidence that images of smoking have an effect in encouraging young people to take up the habit. The fact that the same films are broadly available across the UK, yet levels of smoking vary hugely from area to area, supports the view that there are a range of other, stronger, socio-economic factors behind this.

The approach put before Liverpool City Council would not only impose a significant burden on the Licensing authority (requiring them to watch every film exhibited in Liverpool) but would also inevitably lead to those who wanted to see the film but were prevented to doing so by the classification travelling to areas outside of Liverpool to do so.

This, and the general effect of higher classifications in reducing audiences, would have a significant impact not just on local cinema businesses (and hence cinema jobs) but also on local suppliers and services.

And of course once any film is available on DVD or to download, then the ability to restrict who sees tham film is almost impossible to police.

The CEA recognises the role of both central and local government in promoting healthy living and ensuring that those who wish to stop smoking are supported in doing so, and that others are dissuaded from taking it up.

The UK cinema sector has itself taken a lead in providing a smoke-free environment in which to enjoy film. In the vast majority of cases, cinemas were non-smoking environments (on health as well as customer comfort and safety grounds) for a significant number of years prior to the 2007 legislation covering smoking in public places.

But any steps to impose mandatory classification for scenes of smoking are both inappropriate and ill-judged.