The WHO: giving the Chinese government a run for its money

Jacob Furedi

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Topics Politics

In yet another comically paternalistic move, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has suggested that films and TV programmes that portray tobacco use should come with age classifications to prevent children ‘from starting to smoke’. Moreover, the WHO argues that, before tobacco-stained films are viewed, ‘strong anti-smoking advertisements’ should be shown. Something like this, perhaps: ‘While no animals were hurt or killed, multiple lungs were damaged in the making of this movie.’

The WHO press release claims that the use of tobacco on screen has ‘enticed millions of young people worldwide to start smoking’. Naturally, smoking on screen can look pretty damn cool. Mad Men’s Don Draper, the peak of male aspiration, was never seen without a pack of Lucky Strike in hand.

There is no doubt that viewers are influenced by what they see on film or TV. We see a character we like and we try to emulate them. Of course, this is even more pronounced among children. But the suggestion that we should prevent kids from watching films purely because a character smokes is absurd. Currently the British Board of Film Classification excludes children from watching films that contain ‘very strong violence’, ‘frequent strong language’, ‘strong portrayals of sexual activity’, ‘scenes of sexual violence’ and ‘strong horror’. To put smoking on a par with these is bonkers. Cigarettes are bad for you, but we don’t need to pretend they’re up there with Hannibal Lecter.

The most insidious aspect of the WHO’s proposal is the authoritarian outlook it reveals. It is not surprising, therefore, that its report bizarrely praises the Chinese government for ordering ‘excessive’ smoking scenes not to be shown in films. This is a government that chose to censor scenes from Men In Black 3, Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World’s End and Mission: Impossible 3 – not because they are crap films, but because they contradicted Chinese values.

So, let’s not take our cultural cue from the Chinese government. How about Don Draper instead?

Jacob Furedi is a writer and a student.

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Topics Politics