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How Smoking in Movies Could Soon Be Rated R

Date Posted: September 26, 2011

The World Health Organization (WHO) is recommending slapping adult ratings (rated R) on movies with scenes that depict smoking in the hopes it will deter kids and teenagers from lighting up. Film ratings were created to help shield kids from inappropriate scenes containing nudity, drugs, violence and profanity however new research suggests that teens who observe smoking are more likely to try cigarettes themselves.

The WHO believes 390,000 American kids smoke because of what they see onscreen and believe that imposing adult ratings on films that include actors smoking could potentially prevent as many as 200,000 kids and teenagers from becoming smokers.  While smoking scenes in movies rated G seem to have vanished from films in recent years, numbers show that smoking scenes have declined about 96% in the last five years alone.

Ironically, electronic cigarettes have started making their way to the big screen in films such as the Tourist, in which Johnny Depp is seen puffing on an e-cig while traveling on a train cross-country. While this scene was aired prominently as part of the movie’s trailer, in Johnny Depp’s case, various sources seem to indicate that the use of the electronic cigarette may be more personal than it is a fad.

Thus far, recommendations by the WHO have remained largely ignored but supporters are insisting that restrictive ratings could influence what movie makers are marketing to kids, according to a paper published in the journal of PLoS Medicine.

In it, Christopher Millett, a public health expert at Imperial College London, and his co-authors from the UC San Francisco Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, director Dr. Stanton Glantz, and consultant Jonathan Polansky, said that some governments provide “generous subsidies to the U.S. film industry” for movies that indirectly promote tobacco use in youngsters. They would like to turn that around with a policy that relies on economic disincentives, such as making sure that films that include tobacco use are ineligible for public subsidies.

While smoking is a prevalent problem among youth, some parents say a new rating system won’t change that.  “I don’t know what all the movie ratings mean as is,” said Donna Levine, a mother of three.  “I pay attention to what my kids watch but a new rating for a movie won’t do much for me.”  Another mother disagreed, “I don’t see how it could hurt.”  “If there is smoking, there are other issues; smoking and drinking typically go together, and they are both things I don’t want my kid watching.”

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