Perspective

American Cancer Society, public health groups call for R rating on films that portray smoking

Gary Reedy
Jack Ende

Seventeen public health and medical organizations have urged the American film industry to apply an R rating to all films that include depictions of smoking or other tobacco use.

The coalition — which includes the American Cancer Society, AMA and American College of Physicians (ACP) — signed a joint letter that requested the film industry meet a June 1, 2018, deadline to stop the portrayal of tobacco products in youth-rated films.

“Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of cancer mortality, responsible for approximately 30 percent of all cancer deaths in America,” Gary Reedy, CEO of the American Cancer Society, said in a press release. “Most smokers are enticed into nicotine addiction as children, and the American film industry must take assertive action now to ensure that our kids are not lured into using this uniquely lethal product by depictions of smoking in major motion pictures.”

In an MMWR report released this summer, researchers from the CDC showed that — despite significant declines in tobacco depiction in youth-rated films from 2005-2010 — progress toward elimination of tobacco depictions plateaued after 2010.

Although depictions of tobacco use remain uncommon in G- and PG-rated films, the researchers observed a 43% increase in the total number of tobacco-use incidents in PG-13-rated films over the previous 6 years.

“Glamorizing smoking on television and in movies influences young persons to smoke and is at odds with antismoking efforts that are so critical for the health of our nation,” Jack Ende, MD, president of the ACP, said in the release. “ACP, therefore, encourages the television, motion picture and media industries to join with the medical community in recognizing this problem and taking whatever steps are needed to limit this hazardous exposure.”

The CDC estimates that exposure to on-screen smoking will encourage more than 6 million children in the United States to smoke, 2 million of whom will die prematurely of tobacco-induced cancer, heart disease, lung disease or stroke.

If the film industry voluntary implemented policies that require R ratings for smoking, an estimated 1 million tobacco deaths among current-era children could be avoided, according to CDC estimates.

As outlined by the coalition, the revised R-rating guidelines would apply to all films that depict smoking, with the exception of those that “exclusively portray actual people who used tobacco — as in documentaries or biographical dramas — or that depict the serious health consequences of tobacco use.”

“We urge the motion picture industry to listen to the collective plea of the nation’s physicians and once and for all apply an R rating to films depicting cigarette smoking to help keep lethal, addictive tobacco products out of the hands of young people,” David O. Barbe, MD, president of the AMA, said in the release. “We will continue to advocate for more stringent policies and support efforts to protect our nation’s youth from the dangers caused by tobacco use.”

Other groups to sign the letter included the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Lung Association and American Heart Association.

The groups sent the letter to more than 30 movie producers, distributors, exhibitors and retailers, including Motion Picture Association of America, Comcast, Disney, 21st Century Fox, Sony, Time Warner, Viacom, Apple, Best Buy, Google, Hulu, Netflix, Target, Verizon and Walmart. – by Robert Stott

Reference:

Tynan MA, et al. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2017; doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6626a1.

Gary Reedy
Jack Ende

Seventeen public health and medical organizations have urged the American film industry to apply an R rating to all films that include depictions of smoking or other tobacco use.

The coalition — which includes the American Cancer Society, AMA and American College of Physicians (ACP) — signed a joint letter that requested the film industry meet a June 1, 2018, deadline to stop the portrayal of tobacco products in youth-rated films.

“Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of cancer mortality, responsible for approximately 30 percent of all cancer deaths in America,” Gary Reedy, CEO of the American Cancer Society, said in a press release. “Most smokers are enticed into nicotine addiction as children, and the American film industry must take assertive action now to ensure that our kids are not lured into using this uniquely lethal product by depictions of smoking in major motion pictures.”

In an MMWR report released this summer, researchers from the CDC showed that — despite significant declines in tobacco depiction in youth-rated films from 2005-2010 — progress toward elimination of tobacco depictions plateaued after 2010.

Although depictions of tobacco use remain uncommon in G- and PG-rated films, the researchers observed a 43% increase in the total number of tobacco-use incidents in PG-13-rated films over the previous 6 years.

“Glamorizing smoking on television and in movies influences young persons to smoke and is at odds with antismoking efforts that are so critical for the health of our nation,” Jack Ende, MD, president of the ACP, said in the release. “ACP, therefore, encourages the television, motion picture and media industries to join with the medical community in recognizing this problem and taking whatever steps are needed to limit this hazardous exposure.”

The CDC estimates that exposure to on-screen smoking will encourage more than 6 million children in the United States to smoke, 2 million of whom will die prematurely of tobacco-induced cancer, heart disease, lung disease or stroke.

If the film industry voluntary implemented policies that require R ratings for smoking, an estimated 1 million tobacco deaths among current-era children could be avoided, according to CDC estimates.

As outlined by the coalition, the revised R-rating guidelines would apply to all films that depict smoking, with the exception of those that “exclusively portray actual people who used tobacco — as in documentaries or biographical dramas — or that depict the serious health consequences of tobacco use.”

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“We urge the motion picture industry to listen to the collective plea of the nation’s physicians and once and for all apply an R rating to films depicting cigarette smoking to help keep lethal, addictive tobacco products out of the hands of young people,” David O. Barbe, MD, president of the AMA, said in the release. “We will continue to advocate for more stringent policies and support efforts to protect our nation’s youth from the dangers caused by tobacco use.”

Other groups to sign the letter included the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Lung Association and American Heart Association.

The groups sent the letter to more than 30 movie producers, distributors, exhibitors and retailers, including Motion Picture Association of America, Comcast, Disney, 21st Century Fox, Sony, Time Warner, Viacom, Apple, Best Buy, Google, Hulu, Netflix, Target, Verizon and Walmart. – by Robert Stott

Reference:

Tynan MA, et al. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2017; doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6626a1.

    Perspective
    Michael B. Steinberg, MD, MPH

    Michael B. Steinberg

    Over the past 50 years, the role that tobacco smoking has played in our society has changed dramatically. We have gone from a nation in the 1950s and early 1960s in which the majority of adult males lit up, to 2017 when —  in some states — smoking rates have dipped below 15%. The country is now a place where smoking is uncommon and being a smoker is increasingly more difficult. Then shouldn’t our movies reflect this reality? And, do movies have a responsibility to protect youth from glamorizing this deadly and  increasingly unpopular behavior?

    It is unlikely that anyone would stand up and proclaim that they support encouraging young people to become addicted to the most addictive substance in our country — tobacco. A product that, if used as intended, will kill 50% of its consumers. This reality explains why numerous public health organizations support an R rating for films that portray smoking and tobacco use. This is not about freedom of speech or artistic expression. It is about saving lives. The more we glamorize or normalize smoking, the easier it will be for impressionable youth to experiment and then become addicted to tobacco. Our constitutional rights and freedoms are not universal. There are common-sense limits. As the saying goes, your freedom of speech protections do not allow you to shout “Fire!” in a movie theater. In that same theater, you should not be depicting a deadly behavior as fun and enjoyable during youth-rated films.

    Protecting children aged younger than 17 years from observing scenes of smokers portrayed as rugged, adventurous, creative and sociable, while adding no substance to the plot line, is a duty of our society. Youth can attend these movies, but their parents or guardians should accompany them. Adults can make their own informed decisions, but young people should be guarded against unrealistic imagery of tobacco’s impact on a young person’s life.

    • Michael B. Steinberg, MD, MPH, FACP
    • HemOnc Today Editorial Board member
      Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School

    Disclosures: Steinberg reports no relevant financial disclosures.