Canada's new tobacco goal requires smokefree films

The Canadian government is inviting public comment as it develops plans to drive smoking levels down to 5% or lower by 2035. However, the scope makes no mention of getting smoking out of youth-rated movies — yet — even though smokefree movies are a key to smokefree kids. If you're in Canada, it's time to raise the smokefree movie flag.

4 reasons movie smoking is a key Canadian question

1 | Canada already prohibits conventional tobacco advertising and sponsorship. That means the movies (and movies on video) are one of the few remaining channels to recruit kids to smoke. In turn, this suggests that getting smoking out of youth-rated films would have an even bigger relative effect than in the US.

2 | Because the (provincial) Canadian film rating systems go easier on strong language and sexual imagery than the MPAA ratings used in the US, exposure to on-screen smoking in youth-rated movies in Canada is higher than in the US.

3 | In the US, the media companies that make most of the movies govern the film ratings through their trade organization, the MPAA. In Canada, the theatrical film ratings are assigned by province-level boards linked to provincial governments accountable to the public. 

4 | Unlike the US, Canada has ratified the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. FCTC Article 13 expressly obligates governments to block cross-border tobacco promotion and tobacco promotion through entertainment media.

In one of the news stories about the government's plan for tobacco, the Ontario Lung Association clearly addressed the need to rate smoking movies 18A: 

In an attempt to curb youth exposure to tobacco, the Ontario Lung Association said it is asking the government to change the rating of any film that shows smoking to 18A.

The US CDC says that adult-rating future US films with smoking would avert one million tobacco deaths among US children alive today.

US movies with smoking, exported to Canada, likely force Canadians to pay an even greater public health price than in the US. The good news? Canadian policies to permanently reduce kids' exposure to smoking on screen would make an even bigger difference.

It's important to have formal submissions from organizations in Canada. There's already a lot of good work being done in several provinces and Canada-specific data is available. Deadline for submissions is April 13, 2017.  Submissions should be directed to: www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/programs/future-tobacco-control/future-tobacco-control.html.

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Resources

• Some research links for on-screen smoking in Canada

• US CDC fact sheets on movie smoking

• A guide to policy solutions for on-screen smoking

• WHO's FCTC policy guidelines for smokefree movies

• Ontario Coalition for Smokefree Movies