Updated 01 September 2017

Higher age restriction demanded for movies with smoking scenes

Filmmakers in the US came under scrutiny after being accused that smoking scenes in movies lure young children to take up the habit.

Are you worried that Cruella's smoking habit, however much part of her character in 101 Dalmations, could give your children the idea that it is cool to light up?

A group of America's leading health organisations is now demanding that any movie that depicts smoking or tobacco use should come with an "R" (restricted) rating.

In South Africa, the Film and Publications Board (FPB) is responsible for the ratings assigned to movies. And in February 2016 it was reported that South Africa is ahead of the pack where it comes to anti-tobacco ratings.

According to a previous Health24 article, the number of smoking scenes in movies rated PG-13 – suitable for teens – surged, from 564 in 2010 to 809 in 2016.

No progress in US

The demand is in response to a recent report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found there has been no progress in reducing the number of tobacco scenes in youth-rated movies.

In 2012, the US Surgeon General established a cause-and-effect link between smoking in movies and the likelihood kids would pick up the deadly habit.

Children are likely to imitate

"As physicians and advocates, we are speaking with a unified voice: Filmmakers must stop enabling the tobacco industry to target our children," Dr Fernando Stein, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said in a statement.

"The evidence is clear that when children see movie characters smoking, they are more likely to smoke," Stein added. "90% of smokers start smoking in their teen years, and many of them will battle a tobacco addiction that will eventually kill them. By rating movies appropriately, filmmakers can help protect the next generation from tobacco-related disease and death."

               The smoking caterpillar in the Disney movie Alice in Wonderland

          The character Cruella de Vil was also notorious for smoking in 101 Dalmatians

Movies will entice many children

According to the CDC, movies with scenes of smoking will entice more than 6 million US children to smoke – and 2 million of them will die prematurely from tobacco-related cancer, heart disease, lung disease or stroke.

"By voluntarily implementing policies that require R ratings for smoking, the film industry can avert 1 million tobacco deaths among today's children, according to estimates from the CDC," the coalition of health groups said in the statement.

A letter of demand

The coalition, which includes 17 public health and medical groups, sent a letter to film industry leaders in response to the CDC report. The report stated that progress in eliminating smoking in movies labelled PG-13 slowed dramatically after 2010.

The letter demands that the film industry meet a 1 June 2018, deadline to stop depicting smoking in movies rated acceptable for children.

An R-rated movie requires children under 17 to be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian.

Smoking the leading cause of death

Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, and it's to blame for nearly 500 000 deaths a year.

"Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of cancer mortality, responsible for approximately 30% of all cancer deaths in America," said Gary Reedy, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society. "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."

The coalition represents more than 630 000 doctors, and includes the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Physicians, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Medical Association.

Other members include the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and the American Public Health Association.

The revised R rating guidelines spelled out in the letter would apply to all movies with smoking except 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," the coalition said.

Image credit: iStock