Should Movies Showing People Smoking Be Rated-R?

(Screengrab: YouTube/davidwable)Pinocchio smokes a cigar in the 1940 Walt Disney classic "Pinocchio."

A Center for Disease Control report released this month has renewed pressure on the Motion Picture Association of America to change its film rating system so that movies with smoking or tobacco use be given an R rating. However, one family media watchdog group has voiced concern with the idea.

The CDC states in a July 7 report that from 2010 to 2016, tobacco use in top-grossing movies has increased by 72 percent. Meanwhile, tobacco use in PG-13 movies increased by 43 percent. The report comes as activists have argued that the use of tobacco products in movies has had a negative influence on children.

Considering that a U.S. surgeon general's report on "Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults" stated in 2012 that population-based studies provide evidence to suggest that "parental restrictions on viewing R-rated movies reduces exposure to such movies and the risk of early onset of smoking," activists have again renewed their calls to the MPAA to alter its rating system.

"Since 2010, there has been no progress in reducing the total number of tobacco incidents in youth-rated movies," researcher Stanton A. Glantz, the founder of Smokefree Movies and a co-author of the recent CDC report, said in a statement. "There is an enormous need to implement an industry wide standard by requiring that all movies rated for kids are smoke-free."

The 2012 report noted that the positive influence of parental control "would not address the substantial exposure of youth to smoking imagery in movies rated G, PG, and PG-13."

In 2016, a federal court tossed out a proposed federal class action lawsuit filed against the MPAA that claimed "exposure to tobacco imagery in youth rated films has caused, and will continue to cause, hundreds of thousands of children under the age of 17 in the United States to become addicted to tobacco every year."

Christopher Gildemeister, head of research operations for the Parents Television Council, a watchdog group that regularly criticizes television and film ratings systems for misleading parents, said that PTC is "against" the idea that movies should get R ratings simply for featuring the use of tobacco products.

"Some people are proposing that any movie with any smoking at all should automatically be rated-R. It may surprise people that the Parents Television Council might be against that notion," Gildemeister told The Christian Post in an interview on Tuesday. "There are probably people who think we would be right on board with this, but we think that other things like sex, violence, F-words, etc., should be taken into account too. Above all else, we are concerned that ratings be accurate."

"The question then becomes, is smoking something that is so horrible that any movie that contains smoking automatically gets an R rating?" Gildemeister continued. "Use of the F-word no longer automatically gets an 'R.' The MPAA has a guideline that a PG-13 movie is only supposed to contain one F-word. More than that, it is supposed to be rated-R. However, some filmmakers, most notably, Harvey Weinstein, have been able to get around this by appealing."

Gildemeister added that there are probably more parents who care more about their kids being exposed to foul language "than seeing somebody smoking."

Gildemeister added that making it so any movie with tobacco use gets an R rating could quickly "become ridiculous."

"There is smoking in 'Snow White.' Grumpy is smoking a pipe," he said. "There is a whole sequence in 'Pinocchio' where they are on Pleasure Island, where Pinocchio is getting in trouble and he is learning to shoot pool and he is smoking on a big cigar. Of course, this is portrayed as a bad thing. But the point is, are you just going to cut that whole scene out?"

"How about the classic movies. Could anybody ever watch "Casablanca" again if it is rated-R? With all the smoking that they do in there, they would have to rate it 'X' with all that smoking," he continued. "I don't know how many John Wayne movies there are where the Duke is taking a puff on something or rolling his own."

Gildemeister said that although it's "laudable" that people and filmmakers are concerned about the negative influence that tobacco use in movies has on children, it seems as though there is a bit of a double standard when it comes to smoking.

"Why is it that filmmakers are aware that showing smoking can have a negative influence on kids but showing foul language or showing all kinds of sexual content or showing horrific violence, apparently, that doesn't have any influence on children at all?" Gildemeister asked. "They let a lot of the other things slide, things that I think most parents are more serious and more egregious than smoking."

Gildemeister assured that PTC is not saying that "smoking is wonderful," but that "it's probably not the biggest thing to be concerned about."

"If you're going to make a picture automatically rated-R because it contains smoking, well, we would like to see the MPAA enforce its own ruling that movies using the F-word should be rated-R. Maybe, some other language should be rated more stringently as an 'R.' Certainly, there is sexual content that should be rated more stringently," Gildenmeister added. "If you're going to focus just on smoking, that seems like you're giving an awful lot of weight to one particular thing when there are a whole spectrum of things that ought to be considered."

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