Hollywood bad guys 'smoke more'
Hollywood villains and working class characters are more likely to smoke in movies than the rich and heroic, according to a US medical study.
Instead of "glamorous and positive" portrayals of the habit, researchers said the exact opposite was seen.
The study in the journal Chest, which examined almost 450 hit US films made since 1990, found 35% of villains smoked compared with 20% of heroes.
It also said smoking was not much more common on screen than in real life.
And independent film-makers were more likely to show characters lighting up than the big studios, it found.
"Children and adults of all ages can be influenced by what they view in movies," said Paul Kvale, president of the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP).
"This study emphasises the need for responsible film-making when it comes to portraying smoking."
'Like real life'
The study looked at the five main characters in every film that has portrayed American life and reached the US box office top 10 since 1990.
Almost half of all characters who smoked were in a lower socioeconomic class, the researchers found, compared with 10% being upper class.
Overall, 23.3% of lead characters smoked on screen, it said - compared with 21.8% of people in US society.
Men and white people were more likely to smoke in films than women and ethnic minorities - the same pattern as in real life.
And 46% of independent movies studied featured a lead character who smoked, compared with 18% of films made by the big studios.
Dr Karan Omidvari of St Michael's Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey - the lead researcher on the study - said: "Independent movie-makers, who work outside the Hollywood system, are much more callous and 'guilty' when it comes to portraying smoking indiscriminately."
Blaming films 'daft'
A spokeswoman for UK group Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) said screen villains could make smoking "even more attractive to rebellious youths".
"The fact that it tends to be the 'bad guys' who smoke in films doesn't make smoking any less appealing," she said.
"So I would agree that producers and directors have got a responsibility to think very carefully about whether smoking is even needed at all in a film."
A spokesman for smokers' rights group Forest said cigarettes were bound to feature in movies because some film-makers tried to replicate real life.
"In real life, as much as some people hate it, people smoke and people enjoy smoking," he said.
"As for Hollywood glamorising smoking, I fail to see that. And teens are exposed to many influences at school, at home and from the massive amount of anti-smoking messages they receive.
"To suggest that films are to blame for teens taking up smoking is daft."