Health groups start 12-month countdown for R-rating

In a two-page statement published in The Hollywood Reporter and Variety, Smokefree Movies’ national partners demand that the Motion Picture Association of America R-rate any movie with smoking submitted for a film rating after June 1, 2018.

The partners’ statement reviews the 15-year history of policy advocacy for the R-rating — from its proposal in a 2002 public health journal to the CDC's 2015 report that the R-rating would reduce teen smoking rates by nearly 20 percent and avert one million tobacco deaths in this generation of kids.

The partners point out that if Hollywood had kept reducing smoking on screen at the pace it did between 2005 and 2010, kid-rated films would be smokefree today. Instead, there has been no progress in half a decade (see figure below). More than one in three PG-13 films still featured tobacco imagery in 2016 and audiences' PG-13 tobacco exposure jumped 59 percent.

The statement reports that since 2010, the US film industry has released 210 top-grossing, youth-rated films with smoking. The films featured more than 6,000 tobacco incidents and delivered more than 60 billion tobacco impressions to domestic theater audiences — not counting exposure through video media.

The CDC has reported that exposure to on-screen smoking will recruit 6.2 million new young smokers in this generation, of whom two million will die prematurely from tobacco-induced cancer, heart disease, lung disease or stroke. The MPAA claims it considers smoking in its ratings, but the official rating guidelines never mention smoking or tobacco. Likewise, individual companies’ tobacco depiction policies fail to stop on-screen smoking. The Smokefree Movies partner statement concludes:

We need an R-rating that applies to every studio, every producer, every film. Every delay condemns more kids to tobacco addiction, disability, and early death. We therefore make this specific, time-sensitive demand:

The MPAA’s Classification and Rating Administration must apply an R-rating to any motion picture with tobacco imagery submitted for classification after June 1, 2018. Exceptions should be limited to films 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 June 1, 2018 deadline reflects Hollywood’s product cycle. It gives producers twelve months to voluntarily avoid tobacco imagery in films now in pre-production, to edit smoking out of movies now in production, or to eliminate smoking in post-production, just as film producers now routinely calibrate other movie content to achieve a PG-13 or R-rating.

Updating the MPAA’s rating standard to include tobacco is not expected to lead to more films being R-rated. Instead, it will keep future youth-rated movie smokefree. Health groups have long maintained that an R-rating for smoking does not aim to restrict film audience but will act as a permanent, market-based incentive for film producers.

The statement is signed by:

Read the full two-page statement published in film industry trade publications The Hollywood Reporter and Variety.