Policy | R-rate films with tobacco

The policy | Any film that shows or implies tobacco should be rated 'R.' The only exceptions should be when the presentation of tobacco clearly and unambiguously reflects the dangers and consequences of tobacco use or is necessary to represent the smoking of a real historical figure.

What it will do | Producers today routinely calibrate the content of their films to win a desired rating. Ratings are an element of their business plans. For marketing reasons, studios may require a production company to deliver a film that will achieve a desired rating. If producers and studios know that smoking in their films will trigger an R-rating, most will leave it out of projects aiming for wider, and younger, audiences. 

By practically eliminating tobacco imagery in the movies that children and adolescents see most, R-rating future movies with smoking will:

  • Cut kids’ exposure to on-screen smoking in half
  • Reduce teen smoking rates by nearly 20 percent, and
  • Avert a million future tobacco deaths in this generation. 

How it will work | R-rating movies with tobacco imagery is not aimed at keeping teens out of more movies. Instead, it creates a voluntary market incentive for producers to leave tobacco imagery out of the movies they want rated G, PG or PG-13 for marketing purposes. No producer will think it worthwhile to release a film rated 'R' for smoking alone.

Builds on precedent | The major Hollywood studios themselves run the film rating system in the United States. Filmmakers can make any movie they want and accept the appropriate rating.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) says its ratings give parents 'advance information' about movie content 'so that they can decide what their children can and cannot see.' Since 2007, the MPAA has added the word 'smoking' to the ratings of only a small fraction of all wide-release G/PG/PG-13 films with tobacco. This leaves parents with little advance warning and grossly understates the number of films exposing kids to tobacco imagery.

The MPAA’s current Classification and Rating Rules (2010) never mention 'tobacco' or 'smoking.' In contrast, the rules are specific for nudity, violence and strong language.

Example | 'A motion picture’s single use of one of the harsher sexually-derived words, though only as an expletive, initially requires at least a PG-13 rating. More than one such expletive requires an R rating, as must even one of those words used in a sexual context. The Rating Board nevertheless may rate such a motion picture PG-13 if, based on a special vote by a two-thirds majority, the Raters feel that most American parents would believe that a PG-13 rating is appropriate because of the context or manner in which the words are used or because the use of those words in the motion picture is inconspicuous.'

Summary | Top-grossing, youth-rated movies continue to deliver billions of tobacco impressions to theater audiences in the U.S. and worldwide. R-rating future films with tobacco imagery is a reasonable, transparent, forward-looking solution that can substantially and permanently reduce kids' exposure to toxic on-screen tobacco imagery.