September 06, 2017
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American Cancer Society, public health groups call for R rating on films that portray smoking

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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.