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Smoking on TV needs R rating: study

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 31/05/2016

Someone puffing away at a cigarette might just be naughty enough to merit an R rating on TV, researchers say.

A new study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health has found nearly a third of prime-time, free-to-air New Zealand TV featured smoking, 83 per cent in either a neutral of positive light.

While those figures have changed very little from when it was last conducted in 2004, the researchers were also concerned to find the number images of under 18s smoking on screen had tripled in that time.

The researchers - from the University of Otago - concluded the amount of smoking on screen didn't actually reflect declining rates of smoking and regulations not allowing young people to see it could help.

"While tobacco imagery cannot be banned in any meaningful way, legislation could be introduced requiring programming with tobacco imagery to be R-rated," the author's said.

"Producers of local television programmes should be encouraged to consider the depiction of tobacco imagery in a way that clearly reflects the declining use of tobacco [and] the desire of most smokers to quit."

They said the TV images also needed to be countered with more advertising for quitting support programmes.

University of Otago associate professor of public health George Thomson said an R rating would be a practical step.

"Television remains a powerful influence for normalisation, and having tobacco and smoking images on it increase the risk that smoking will remain a normal activity," he said.

The study looked at 93 programmes, 818 trailers and 2650 ads over the length of a week, an analysed a whole series of details about smoking, smokers and their environments on screen.

Its release coincides with the government on Tuesday revealing it's looking at bringing in plain packaging on cigarettes and raising the tobacco tax in last week's budget.

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