From Cruella de Vil to Sherlock Holmes, movie characters have been lighting up in family-friendly films for generations – but health advocates say the trend's dragged on long enough.

Studies suggest movies with smoking are a major force leading young people into the habit, influencing a full third of the U.S. youths who take up cigarettes annually.

That’s why the B.C. Healthy Living Alliance is pushing the government to slap an R rating onto any film that features heavy tobacco imagery.

“When young people see movie stars smoking on screen it helps them make the decision to become smokers. And we don’t think that’s right,” said Alliance CEO Scott McDonald.

The Motion Picture Association of America, which rates movies for U.S. distribution, started taking smoking into consideration alongside violence and nudity five years ago due to pressure from anti-tobacco groups.

But the same films that receive R ratings in the U.S. often end up with a 14A or even PG rating when marketed in B.C., because the province’s ratings body doesn’t apply the same standards.

According to the Healthy Living Alliance, 90 per cent of the top-grossing movies that featured smoking imagery over the last two years received kid-friendly ratings in B.C.

In the U.S., only 60 per cent were rated appropriate for children.

B.C. Justice Minister Shirley Bond said the government invests millions into anti-tobacco programs and cessation support, but stricter movie ratings are not on the agenda.

“There are no plans to add films that depict people smoking to the adult-content classification,” Bond said in an email statement.

“Film ratings are but one avenue to help parents and caregivers make informed decisions about the films their children are viewing. Publicity and education about the dangers of smoking are more effective.”

Beyond stricter ratings, the Healthy Living Alliance wants to ban tobacco brands from the screen, ensure that movie producers receive no financial incentives to portray smoking imagery, and require strong anti-tobacco advertisements before all movies that feature smoking.

Have your say: Should movies with smoking be rated R in B.C.?