Experts recommend ‘R’ rating for films that depict smoking
LOS ANGELES – Public health experts have an unusual suggestion for reducing teen smoking: Give just about any movie that depicts tobacco use an automatic R rating.
If that were to happen, as many as 5.6 million kids who are alive today would be spared a tobacco habit that will ultimately lead to their death, according to the authors of a report published this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The study’s primary goal was to assess Hollywood’s progress in keeping “tobacco incidents” out of the movies most likely to be seen by America’s children and teens. Researchers who focus on this area define such incidents as “the use or implied use of a tobacco product (cigarettes, cigars, pipes, hookah, smokeless tobacco products and electronic cigarettes) by an actor.” If two characters are smoking during a conversation, that counts as two tobacco incidents. If one of those characters is holding a pack of cigarettes in another scene, that qualifies as another incident.
A group called Breathe California in Sacramento keeps track of tobacco incidents in all movies that spend at least one week among the nation’s top 10 highest-grossing films. At least two raters assess each movie, and their findings are collected in a database that’s part of a project known as Thumbs Up! Thumbs Down!
The study authors examined Thumbs Up! Thumbs Down! records from 2010 to 2016, focusing on movies with a G, PG or PG-13 rating. These were the movies kids were most likely to see, they reasoned.
The good news is that tobacco is making appearances in fewer movies. In 2010, 31 percent of movies with youth-friendly ratings had at least one tobacco incident. By 2016, that figure had dropped to 26 percent, according to the study.
Tobacco made a grand total of just four appearances in movies rated G or PG in 2016. That represents an 87 percent decline from 2010, when there were 30 such appearances. And among PG-13 movies, the proportion that included at least one tobacco incident fell from 43 percent in 2010 to 35 percent in 2016.
But although tobacco appeared onscreen in fewer PG-13 movies over time, the total number of these appearances rose from 564 in 2010 to 809 in 2016 – a 43 percent increase.
This means tobacco incidents were concentrated into fewer movies. A kid watching a youth-rated movie that depicted tobacco in 2010 would have seen a total of 22 incidents during the course of that film. By 2016, that figure had risen 55 percent, to 34 incidents.