Smoking Should Factor in Movie Ratings, Anti-Tobacco Advocates Say
Health advocates are calling on the Motion Picture Association of America to consider smoking a factor in rating a film's content, the Contra Costa Times reports. The advocates cite a new study in yesterday's issue of the journal Tobacco Control that examined 1,500 "previously secret, internal" tobacco industry documents made public through the 1998 tobacco settlement. Conducted by health consultant Curtis Mekemson and University of California-San Francisco researcher Stanton Glantz, the study found that tobacco companies "aggressively pursued product placement" in movies in the 1980s and "undertook an extensive campaign to hook Hollywood on tobacco by providing free cigarettes to actors." Mekemson said the study "confirms ... that when stars light up in films ... that can have a powerful influence on people" (Haussler, Contra Costa Times, 3/12). Although the film industry in 1989 imposed a voluntary ban on tobacco placement payments, a 2001 Dartmouth Medical School study found 85% of the "top 25 highest-grossing movies released" each year between 1988 and 1997 featured tobacco use (Delgado, San Francisco Chronicle, 3/13).
A San Francisco-based group known as Smoke Free Movies is petitioning the industry to "kick butts off the silver screen" with a four-point plan:
- At the end of every film that features smoking, run a statement saying "no one who was involved in the making of the film received" any compensation in exchange for characters smoking in the film.
- Allow no tobacco company brand identification in movies.
- Precede movies that feature smoking with a trailer carrying a "strong anti-smoking message, which will neutralize any smoking in the movie."
- Automatically provide an "R" rating to movies that show smoking (Tam, New York Post, 3/12).
Kori Titus, a spokesperson for the Sacramento chapter of the American Lung Association, said, "We need to institutionalize change, and the best way to do that is through the ratings system" (Contra Costa Times, 3/12). Smoke Free Movies has launched an advertising campaign that includes full-page print ads in papers such as the New York Times. However, an ad targeted at the Miramax film "In the Bedroom," which features scenes of actress Sissy Spacek chain-smoking and purchasing a pack of Marlboro Lights, was pulled from the film industry publications Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. Variety's publisher said the ad was removed because it "singled out a particular picture" (New York Post, 3/12). For its part, the Motion Picture Association of America has no plans to consider smoking when rating a film. Rich Taylor, a spokesperson for the association, said, "Right now, we do find that the system in its current state is appropriate." He added that association's rating board bases movie ratings on several issues including violence, language, nudity and drug abuse (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/13).
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