Smoking Under Fire
Activists aim to tar cigarette-friendly films with an R rating
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 2/25/2007 7:00:00 PM
Armed with a half-million-dollar grant and a new political party in power on Capitol Hill, anti-smoking activists are unleashing a major grass-roots campaign on the motion-picture industry and TV broadcasters to keep smoking out of the reach of children.
With Democrats running Congress and smoking foe Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) introducing a bill to put tobacco under FDA control, the issue of whether to put an adult rating on films or even TV shows with smoking scenes could heat up during Oscar season, although Waxman says he is not looking to regulate movie content.
“Given the tremendous dangers of tobacco,” Waxman said in an e-mail to B&C, “gratuitous glamorization of smoking is simply wrong. But I am not advocating government regulation of movie content, as this would raise serious First Amendment issues. The movie industry needs to take this issue more seriously and do all that it can not to promote tobacco use.”
Still, the anti-smoking advocates think it's only a matter of time before the smoke clears. “The tobacco industry and the Republican party are very close,” says consultant Jonathan Polansky, who has been working on the campaign. On the other hand, “the Democrats and the film industry are very close, so we have to go with the merits of the case. But it is a net improvement. Under the Democrats, the truth will come out.”
The American Medical Association (AMA), the American Heart Association, the World Health Organization and more than a dozen other groups are pushing for movie- and TV-studio self-regulation of on-screen smoking. They are backed by a $500,000 grant provided last November by the big-pocketed American Legacy Foundation, the youth-smoking–prevention effort funded out of the 1999 settlement with tobacco companies.
Claiming that Hollywood recruits approximately 390,000 kids a year to start smoking—and provides nearly $4 billion a year in free plugs for tobacco—the “Screen Out” program calls for an R rating on movies with smoking, unless the content “clearly and unambiguously reflects the dangers and consequences of tobacco use or is necessary to represent smoking of a real historical figure”; requires producers to certify that there were no paid-for tobacco plugs in the film; demands that anti-smoking PSAs precede any film depicting tobacco use; and would no longer allow tobacco-brand identification.
The campaign has primarily targeted theatricals, but the groups are also eyeing TV, including trailers for movies that include smoking. “There are a myriad of channels that recycle films,” says Polansky. “That is why placement is so attractive. Once you put it in movie, it will be seen for decades [on TV].”
The solution for television could be slapping a TV PG or TV 14 rating on shows with smoking scenes, although Polansky says the first priority is to target them in theaters, citing a trickle-down effect to TV. It could also be scheduling the films at times when kids are less likely to be in the audience, similar to the 10 p.m.-6 a.m. safe harbor for indecency and profanity.
In a recent speech to the AMA Alliance in Washington, essentially a volunteer group of some 26,000 AMA-member spouses, Dr. Cecil Wilson, chair of the AMA Board, reiterated his support for the campaign to put an R rating on movies with smoking scenes.
“Tremendous progress has been made in recent years to treat tobacco-related diseases and encourage all smokers to quit,” Wilson said. “These measures take resources and years of hard work. But removing smoking from movies and television shows is uniquely cheap and easy.
“For programs where smoking is part of the artistic expression,” he continued, “we would encourage television programmers to schedule those at an hour when children are less likely to be watching.” He said the AMA would also encourage programmers to put a TV-PG or TV-14 rating on shows with smoking scenes, although he stops short of calling for government intervention: “We are encouraging the entertainment industry to recognize the responsibility they have to respond to this challenge.”
According to Wilson, when the AMA Alliance contacted movie studios, the response was that “they are waiting to hear from parents about this.”
The MPAA responded through spokeswoman Kori Bernards: “Everyone agrees that smoking is a very serious health problem, and the MPAA is currently exploring ways to discourage teen smoking with the Harvard School of Public Health and others.
“Ratings are meant to provide parents with information so they can make informed decisions about their children's movie-watching experience,” Bernards continued. “As always, we encourage parents to get as much information as is possible, which is why we and many of our studios have partnered with an organization called Pause, Parent, Play, which is a clearinghouse for ratings on various forms of entertainment.”
Stanton Glantz, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, says parents have already spoken. He cites a survey [from the American Legacy Foundation] that found that 70% of parents would support a special rating on entertainment content. He was one of the key figures in the tobacco settlement case, after having been leaked incriminating documents by an executive at Brown & Williamson.
Glantz has been talking with Rep. Waxman's office about the issue, and he believes that Waxman is conflicted: “He is very anti-tobacco, but he also sees part of his job as protecting Hollywood.” But Glantz also said he has heard that the 70% public-approval figure “made an impression” on Waxman: “It may take a year or two, but I think [the movie industry] will be forced to change.”
Calling it an “interesting idea,” Tim Winter, president of the conservative Parents Television Council, supports adding smoking to a growing list of content that broadcasters have been put on notice about, including sex, profanity and, increasingly, violence.
Says Winter, “I endorse any effort to rate content more maturely if/when behavior is depicted which carries harmful consequences, especially for children. And that would include tobacco use.”
It is no secret that doctors have long deified themselves, surrounded by awestricken family and staff ever ready to reinforce the myth. Soaring above the frey on wings of arrogance, they prey on obviously human vices, such as smoking, like vultures on a field mouse. It deflects from the more serious problem of basic health care costs that are unaffordable for most of the human race. Physicians piously blame escalating costs on insurance companies and lawyers. Why is it, then, that the typical physician''s office has been revamped by an expensive interior designer before the ink is dry on his/her medical degree? Such extravagance requires hefty fees for medical services. It is preferable to keep the focus on easily demonizable human frailties.
Even if it robs mankind of our most precious gift - a free will.
I grieve to ponder the fate of all those Bogart classics, rife with tragic love and furling cigarette smoke.
DJ Bohannan - 3/6/2007 5:41:00 AM EST
Andy Cook - 3/5/2007 3:52:00 PM EST
Pat - 2/25/2007 10:00:00 PM EST
The bullying tone of the anti-smoking proponents is unmistakable. And what they champion is nothing short of censorship. Smoking and cigarettes are legal. Twenty-five percent of the population engages in that habit. Professional anti-smokers like Glantz get away with citing the number of movies where smoking occurs while the truth is that if the movies were to reflect everyday life then one out of every four characters in EACH movie should be smoking. That's hardly the case yet they make it sound like whatever smoking is taking place is out of the norm.
As for their study on children being affected by smoking, it's just more of the same junk from this crowd that no one seems to check up on. The 2003 study by Sargent, et al, "Effect of Viewing Smoking in Movies on Adolescent Smoking Initiation: a cohort study", created to embark on this agenda is riddled with holes.
The study says, "We assessed exposure to smoking shown in movies in 3547 adolescents, aged 10â€“14 years...
"We assessed lifetime smoking experience at baseline and follow-up by asking "How many cigarettes have you smoked in your life?", to which respondents could answer "none", "just a few puffs", "one to 19 cigarettes", "20 to 100 cigarettes", or "more than 100 cigarettes". Only students who answered "none" at baseline were eligible for follow-up. Students who reported any cigarette smoking (just a few puffs, one to 100 cigarettes, more than 100 cigarettes) on the follow-up survey were classified as having initiated smoking during the follow-up period."
10% [of the final number of participants] (259 of 2603) of participants initiated smoking during the follow-up period. Most (80%, n=two hundred and eight) of those who initiated smoking reported that they had smoked "just a few puffs" of a cigarette. Only 2% (SIX TOTAL!!) of those who initiated smoking had smoked more than 100 cigarettes during follow-up.
And get this... the survey included asking these kids about 50 random movies -- 45% of them that had "R" ratings to begin with. 10 to 14 year olds watching "R" movies to begin with????
They follow up with this:
"However, because almost all R-rated movies contain smoking we could not separate the effects of an R-rating and smoking content. Consequently, we cannot exclude the possibility that some other aspect of R-rated movies influences smoking initiation. However, more than 40 years of research shows that observers imitate specific behaviours they see modelled. Thus, our inference that adolescents imitate smoking behaviour seen in movies seems reasonable. The generalisability of our findings might be restricted because our sample included a mainly white, rural population."
Six (6!) kids who'd seen somebody smoke in a movie, eventually reported some sort of sustained smoking (smoking more than 100 cigarettes as opposed to 80% who reported taking â€œjust a few puffsâ€).
There is another method to their (the antis') madness regarding the demand for "R" ratings on movies with smoking. I don't assert this as mere opinion, I remember reading this somewhere some time back.
"PG" movies bring in all that family cash that "R" movies do not. By forcing a "R" rating on what would have normally been a "PG" movie they are squeezing the Motion Picture Association by their financial throats.
The anti-smokers' goal is to coerce the MPA into making a "decision" in the face of "mounting pressure": Remove smoking from movies in order to maintain the number of money-producing "PG" films.
In their plan, this is how they'll get smoking out of many more movies because they sure as hell can't "solve" this one with legislation.
Clever little censors, aren't they.
Lastly, no poll of the people on a free speech issue should be taken without also asking a question like that as part of the survey. Nonetheless, this is not a question to be left up to the public. Free speech (showing a legal behavior with a legal product no less) is constitutionally guaranteed and NO "majority" should have any influence to squelch it.
May the MPAA never give in to the loss of their artistic freedom and freedom of speech. It will signal a disaster for this country if prohibitionists like Stanton Glantz get their way.
Audrey Silk - 2/24/2007 10:50:00 PM EST
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