What does Tulisa, the 24 year-old X-Factor judge and singer-songwriter, have in common with the upcoming Twilight vampire film Breaking Dawn Part Two? Even after Tulisa’s appearance on the talent show at the weekend in a long black dress and heavy makeup I have to tell you it’s not the ‘undead’ thing; it’s the cigarettes. Gary Barlow had accused Tulisa of having “fag ash breath” during a contretemps on live TV while the Twilight film has already, even before its release date, been accused by a US study of being one of the 134 top grossing films that depicts “tobacco incidents”. Dr Stanton Glantz’s research indicates that such incidents rose 36% in films certified U, PG and PG-13 in 2011. As statistics from Fresh Smoke Free North East indicate that eight out of ten smokers start the habit in their teens and that more girls than boys are now taking up smoking, female role models and films targeted at teenage girls are of particular concern to those working toward reducing the UK’s worrying incidence of 100,000 smoking related deaths a year.
If there is one thing those involved with the tobacco industry do not lack, it is statistics, nearly all of which corroborate the damning link between smoking and cancer that was first proved by Sir Richard Doll in the 1950s. Yet, with charities, governments, health professionals, universities and global organisations all putting their weight behind anti-smoking campaigns, the PR battle continues. The tobacco industry is described today by the World Oncology Forum as a “terrorist movement” because “it targets new markets with a product that it knows is deadly when used as intended” and Dr Seffrin of the American Cancer Society says “it could all be avoided if we could prevent the terrorist tactics of the tobacco industry in marketing its products to children.”
Fresh says that in the North East of England the average age of young people taking up smoking is fifteen, in spite of health messages being promoted in schools. While the tobacco companies, hanging on to an industry thought to be worth half a trillion dollars, can use devious tactics like spending £25,000 for a Marlborough billboard to appear on screen in Superman 2, key influencers in this age group are often closer to home. Ninety per cent of young people growing up in a smoking household are likely to smoke themselves and many are influenced by peers. Celebrities also play their part with young people seeing the likes of Kate Moss, Keira Knightley, and Sienna Miller keeping their weight down while surreptitiously smoking in the tabloids.
It is worth noting that many young women cite the skin-ageing effects and smell of cigarettes as factors in giving up, not the health effects. Whatever their individual reasons for quitting, almost a quarter of a million people decided to kick the habit during Stoptober – the month-long NHS quit campaign. With a positive message, some clever PR and lots of will power, more and more people have stubbed it out for good.