Geneva: The WHO has asked all countries, including India, to introduce age-classified ratings for films and other entertainment programmes with tobacco imagery to restrict the number of new adolescent smokers.
"Today, we want to emphasise that governments should require age-classification ratings for films with tobacco imagery to reduce the overall exposure of youth," said Dr Armando Peruga, chief coordinator for WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative, releasing the third edition of a report called 'Smoke-free Movies'.
In 2013-14, adolescents in the US were exposed to 3.1 billion in-cinema tobacco use impressions, 46 per cent of which were from PG-13 films, Peruga said.
Praising the pioneering legislative initiatives made by India and China in protecting non-smokers from smoking imagery in entertainment products, the WHO expert added that "much more needs to be done".
"Taking advantage of the progress that they (Indian government) have made, I think, the next step for India is certainly to introduce a rating system for not only movies but also TV programmes and other entertainment products," he said.
Studies by the US National Cancer Institute and the US Surgeon General have concluded that smoking in films leads to 37 per cent new adolescent smokers.
The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in 2014 estimated that exposure to on-screen smoking would lead to six million new young smokers of which an estimated two million would die of tobacco-induced illnesses.
"Smoking in Hollywood films comprises the main exposure of adolescents in western nations. The study in India deserves special consideration because films made in India constitute the primary exposure in the country," the report said.
Though Bollywood produces many more movies annually, in 2014 it accounted for 30 per cent of all feature-length movies than Hollywood, the small fraction of the films produced in the US nevertheless accounts for half of the global investment in film production and distribution and has consistently earned 60 per cent of the global box office receipts, thus, signalling its wide global reach.
"Another measure that we recommend is certification in movie credits that films produced received nothing of value from anyone in exchange for playing tobacco products," Dr Peruga said.
There is "big suspicion" when some movies, like the last James Bond film Spectre, display intensive smoking content, sometimes, showing brand names, and "we wonder why," he said.
Hollywood films containing tobacco imagery continue to earn billions of dollars globally, including in countries like India and China, that have taken strong measures against tobacco advertising and promotion, the report said.
The UN health agency also urged governments to make media productions that promote smoking ineligible for films produced by national governments.
Between 2002 and 2014, almost 59 per cent of top-grossing films featured tobacco imagery.
The recommendations come when the Indian Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) is set to undergo revamping by a new committee headed by veteran film director Shyam Benegal.