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Are Movie Ratings Going Up in Smoke?

Some studios are choosing to enact their own standards for showing smoking in movies.

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Woody Allen’s latest movie Magic in the Moonlight is set in the 1920s. So it’s no surprise there are plenty of smoking scenes in this film. But it also isn’t likely to have a huge teen audience. However What If (The F Word), Get On Up and The Fault in Our Stars and other movies aimed directly at teens also have tobacco depictions. And the evidence is growing that there is a connection between watching smoking and trying it.

“"Just as kids shouldn't be watching extreme violence or extreme sex, they shouldn't be watching smoking." ”

In a news release from the University of California, San Francisco, Stanton A. Glantz, the director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, is quoted as saying, “Hollywood has still not fixed the problem. The result of the increase in onscreen smoking in youth-rated films will be more kids starting to smoke and developing tobacco-induced disease.”

A study conducted by UCSF of 2011 movies found that onscreen tobacco use was up in some of the top box office films of the year. The Help, Sherlock Homes: Games of Shadows, Water for Elephants, Midnight in PairsandLarry Crowne (all rated PG-13) had 50 or more tobacco incidents. X-Men: First Class and Colombiana had between 30 and 49. The PG rated movies Hugo and the animated Rango also had depictions of smoking.

The study also found that top box office films from that year showed more onscreen smoking than the previous year. Among the 134 top-grossing movies in 2011, nearly 1,900 incidents of tobacco use were depicted. The research defined an incident as the use or implied use of a tobacco product.

While some studios are implementing tobacco regulations, the industry still has a long way to go. According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2013 the number of tobacco incidents in the average PG-13 movie (34 incidents) was almost as high as the number in the average R-rated movie (35 incidents). The research also found that tobacco incidents varied between movie companies. There was an increase in youth-rated movies from Comcast, Disney and Time Warner as well as among some independent movie companies. Tobacco incidents decreased in movies from Sony, Fox and Viacom (Paramount).

Reducing the depictions of tobacco use is good. But it may not be soon enough or strict enough for teens today. In another project, researchers at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College surveyed a group of more than 6,500 youth ages 10-14. They followed up with three more interviews over a two year period. According to the research, teens who watched movies with depictions of smoking were more likely to try it themselves.

In a Time article, Dr. James Sargent of Dartmouth suggested the industry has known about the connection between smoking in movies and kids smoking in the real world. He advocates that the film rating system give an R-rating to any movie that portrays smoking. In a statement, he is quoted as saying, “Just as kids shouldn’t be watching extreme violence or extreme sex, they shouldn’t be watching smoking.”


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