R-rating for smoking will cut kids' exposure to smoking
in movies by at least half, preventing almost
200,000 adolescents from starting to smoke every year
and averting 50-60,000 tobacco deaths a year in coming
National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine has
that an "R" rating would reduce adolescent
smoking initiation and recommends that smoking be integrated
into R-rating criteria.
How the “R” for smoking works
tobacco "R" is not meant to keep teens out
of more movies. Instead, it creates a voluntary market
incentive for producers to keep smoking out of movies
marketed to teens.
average, movies rated PG-13 gross twice as much at the
box office as R-rated movies do. No producer will think
it worthwhile to release a film rated "R"
for smoking alone. The result will be less smoking in
future movies rated PG-13 and younger.
ratings are set by the film industry
movies are products made with a market in mind. Producers
and directors routinely calibrate language, violence
and sexual situations to win a desired rating. Because
the studios themselves run the system, they do not consider
it censorship. According to the Motion Picture Association
of America (MPAA):
basic mission of the rating system is a simple one:
To offer parents some advance information about movies
so that parents can decide what movies they want their
children to see or not to see.
This is especially critical in the case of tobacco because children of non-smoking parents are the most vulnerable. Heavy exposure to on-screen smoking makes these adolescents 4.1 times more likely to start smoking, compared to "only" 1.6 times more likely when their parents smoke.
Decades of MPAA precedent
The film industry should take tobacco promotion at least as seriously as it takes cursing. Here’s how the MPAA rating has long dealt with “f” words:
than one such expletive must lead the Rating Board to
issue a film an "R" rating, as must even one
of these words used in a sexual context. These films
can be rated less severely, however, if by a special
vote the Rating Board feels that a lesser rating would
more responsibly reflect the opinion of American parents.
MPAA can update its ratings — and protect public
health — simply by substituting the phrase “smoking
imagery” for “expletive” in its existing
one use of tobacco or presentation of tobacco advertising
or similar pro-tobacco imagery must lead the Rating
Board to issue a film an R rating. These films can be
rated less severely, however, if by a special vote,
the Rating Board feels that the presentation of tobacco
clearly and unambiguously reflects the dangers and consequences
of tobacco use or represents accurately the smoking
behavior of an actual historical figure, so that a lesser
rating would more responsibly reflect the opinion of
Ratings already shape content
Here’s just one example of how major studios calibrate a script or a final edit to win a desired rating:
"The whole mood at Disney changed," says [director John] Stockwell, who was ordered by the studio to tame Crazy/Beautiful's R-rated script and deliver a PG-13 movie. In the final version…the heroine will no longer smoke pot onscreen, the F word will be used only once (the limit for a PG-13 movie), and no one will say "three-way." — Time, July 2, 2001
The public strongly supports an R-rating for smoking movies
An independent national survey conducted in 2006 found that 70 percent of adults support R-rating movies that show smoking, unless the film clearly demonstrates the dangers of smoking or it is necessary to represent smoking of a real historical figure. Public support for the R-rating increased by more than 10% from previous years.
arguments are heard against the R-rating?
"The MPAA already considers smoking when assigning ratings."
Answer: On May 10, 2007, the MPAA announced that it would "consider"
smoking in assigning ratings. In the two years since
the announcement, the MPAA has not elevated the rating
of any film for smoking. It has added “smoking”
to the descriptor block of some film ratings, but tends
to ignore the smoking content of youth-rated films intended
for wide release. MPAA ratings currently provide neither
filmmakers nor the public reliable guidance on smoking
R-rating would restrict creative freedom."
An R-rating hardly means oppression or oblivion. From
1999 to 2008, the MPAA gave 40 percent (692/1719) of
movies released to theaters an “R” rating.
Over the same period, 58 percent of films nominated
for a Best Picture Oscar® — and 60 percent
of the winners — were rated “R.” When
tobacco imagery is rated “R” in future,
movie makers will remain free to include smoking in
any film. They will make choices with ratings in mind,
just as they do today.
"To tell actors not to smoke a cigarette in a movie when they portray a Winston Churchill is a historic movie is ludicrous and going too far."
In fact, the R-rating policy includes a specific exception
for depictions of real historical figures who actually
smoked — including Winston Churchill. The 2005
film Good Night, and Good Luck, about broadcast journalist
Edward R. Murrow, would still have been rated PG, for
example. (There is also an exception for films that
show the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke.)
"Banning smoking in movies is going
Answer: No one is proposing to ban
smoking from movies, just rate films with smoking "R"
to reduce exposure to smoking in the G, PG, and (especially)
PG-13 movies that kids see most.
a form of censorship.”
The proposal is to integrate smoking into the existing,
voluntary rating system run by the film industry itself.
No government agency is involved, so there are no First
Amendment issues. (More
on the censorship argument.)
is a legal product.”
Violence, rough language and sexual expression not judged
obscene by community standards are also perfectly legal,
yet the film industry’s rating system applies
to them. Why not include tobacco? Unlike four-letter
words, smoking kills millions.
a slippery slope."
who object to certain kinds of content, from graphic
violence to bare skin, regularly target the film industry.
That’s why the rating system exists. But on-screen
smoking in kid-rated movies is the only imagery conclusively
proven to lead to more U.S. deaths than criminal violence,
drunk driving and illegal drugs combined. In addition,
the tobacco industry and the film industry have a long
history of commercial collaboration. This is a major
public medical issue, not a matter of bad taste.
"Kids will still see R-rated movies."
Kids now see half as many R-rated films as
they do youth-rated films. After the R-rating gets smoking
out of youth-rated films — which account for more
than half of their exposure — kids will still
get exposure from R-rated films. That’s why effective
anti-tobacco spots are also part of the overall
Anything less than an R-rating treats nothing except
the studios’ growing public relations problem.