Film stars who smoke on screen should attract the attention of the censor in the same way as they would if they were engaged in extreme sex or violence, doctors say.

Films that show smoking in a way that "condones, encourages or glamorises" the activity should be considered for reclassification – restricting them to an older audience, the British Medical Association said. The association called yesterday for new curbs on the promotion of smoking in the media and said the Government should set a target to make England smoke-free by 2035.

More than one in five adults smokes and most start before they are 18 when they are most vulnerable to images that "increase the allure of the habit", the BMA said in a report from its board of science.

The portrayal of smoking in films declined from 1950 to 1990, but has since increased. The poster for the 1994 movie Pulp Fiction, showing a sultry Uma Thurman smoking, was a gift to the tobacco industry and an example of the sort of image the BMA wants to outlaw. In the US, smoking has increased in films targeted at teenagers since 2002, the report says.

The BMA says films showing smoking in a positive light should also be preceded by an anti-smoking advert. A similar strategy to curb the promotion of cigarettes on television led to the voluntary withdrawal of tobacco advertising in the 1970s.

Cigarettes should be banned from sale in vending machines, removed from display in shops and supermarkets and presented in plain packaging, the report says. The UK has one of the most comprehensive tobacco control policies in Europe with a ban on smoking in public places, an advertising ban, regular tax increases, an increase in the minimum age for buying cigarettes (from 16 to 18) and health warnings on packets. But further efforts to reduce the appeal of smoking to the young are essential to achieve the goal of eliminating it, the BMA says.

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