Film watchdog lets James Bond carry on smoking
By Nigel Reynolds, Arts Correspondent
James Bond can carry on inhaling - whether from an elegant panatella or one of the Morland Specials that he used to produce from a gun-metal case - and the censors won't demand that Rick's Bar becomes smoke-free if Hollywood remakes Casablanca.
The British Board of Film Classification yesterday rejected calls from health groups to cut film scenes showing actors smoking. The board said such drastic action smacked of "the nanny state" and there was little public demand for the change.
However, in a slight shift in its position, the board said in new guidelines issued yesterday that films "which promote or glamorise smoking, alcohol abuse or substance misuse, may also be a concern, particularly at the junior categories (in the U, PG and 12A film classifications)".
The board's cautious mention of smoking for the first time falls far short of demands that smoking scenes, particularly in any film likely to be seen by children, should be banned in Britain and consigned to the cutting room floor. Professor Gerard Hastings, director of cancer research at the UK's Centre for Tobacco Control, said: "If the BBFC doesn't accept its moral responsibility, it might as well pack up and go home."
Amanda Sandford, research manager of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), said the new mention in the guidelines was "a step in the right direction".
But she was surprised that the BBFC had rejected evidence from America of a link between children smoking and seeing role models smoking in films.
The board said yesterday that it felt no qualms about adult films containing smoking scenes as long as they were not glamorised and not part of a deal between a film and tobacco company.
Sue Clarke, a board spokesman, said: "It becomes ridiculous if you can't put smoking in a film in context. If you were making a film set in the trenches in the First World War, it would look very odd not to have smoking. Likewise period films in the 1940s and 1950s, when a lot more people smoked.
"If you were remaking Casablanca, Rick's Bar wouldn't be Rick's Bar if it wasn't incredibly smoky and I think we feel that it is absolutely fine for James Bond to smoke.
"However, I don't know what we would do if Harry Potter took up smoking in his next film.
"It would be hard to give an 18 certificate, but we might have to cut it or tone it down."
But Ms Sandford said: "I am very surprised that they don't think James Bond glamorises smoking. The whole point of him is that he is the epitome of a sexy man."
Bond has continued as a regular, though not chain-smoking, spy for years. In Die Another Day, the last 007 film, the actor Pierce Brosnan, who will not play the hero again, puffed away on cigars.
BBFC officials confessed yesterday that they did not know how the guidelines would work.
But they said that where a film aimed at children was on the borderline between, say a U (suitable for all viewers) and a PG (parental guidance) certificate, smoking scenes and how they were handled "could" push it into the higher category.
Sir Quentin Thomas, president of the BBFC, said cinema-goers were broadly content with rules on certification. However, after interviewing 11,000 members of the public, the new guidelines will require the board to take into account scenes that incite racial hatred or violence.
David Cooke, director of the board, said that 70 per cent of the sample tested had thought that cutting smoking scenes would be "unrealistic or a silly thing to do".
During the research, focus groups watched smoking scenes and were asked their views. "We showed clips, including Die Another Day where James Bond is smoking a cigar," a BBFC spokesman said. "They were quite happy with it and thought a junior audience was unlikely to take it up."
10th February, 2005