Ontario minister's committee wants 18A film rating

In early 2017, Ontario's Minister of Health and Long-Term Care established the Executive Steering Committee for the Modernization of Smoke-Free Ontario to “make recommendations that are: grounded in evidence and best practices, culturally appropriate, responsive to priority issues, and aligned with the government’s strategic vision and priorities” to “form the basis for a new Smoke-Free Ontario strategy.”

The Committee’s recommendations, delivered on 12 October 2017, recognize the importance of getting smoking out of youth-rated films as part of a comprehensive strategy to reduce tobacco prevalence from 17 percent to under 5 percent by 2035.

Specifically, among policies to "keep young Ontarians from starting to smoke" the Committee recommends:

3.2.1 Reduce youth and young adults exposure to on-screen smoking by:

  • requiring any movie that contains tobacco imagery to be assigned an adult rating (18A);
  • requiring movie theatres to show strong anti-tobacco ads (PSAs) before movies that contain smoking or tobacco use and trailers that discount any credibility of association with tobacco; and
  • making media productions that include smoking ineligible for public subsidies.

The Committee explains:

Youth and young adults exposed to tobacco use and product placement in movies are more likely to experiment with or take up smoking and to have a more positive view of smoking. On the other hand, those who saw an anti-smoking ad before the movie were more likely to disapprove of characters in the movie who smoke and to not intend to smoke. Innovative strategies to limit youth exposure to smoking in movies and video games are in the early stages of development but may have potential to keep some youth and young adults from starting to smoke.

Article 13 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control [which Canada has ratified] recommends measures to ban tobacco brands (i.e., product placement), imagery and use in youth-rated films. Rating movies with smoking as adult will put pressure on producers who are targeting the highly lucrative youth and young adults market for films. Withdrawing public subsidies for productions that include smoking is also consistent with the intent of the FCTC and is likely to have a significant impact on on-screen exposure to tobacco use.

This is an important development because Ontario is a major North American film production center. Unlike the US, where film ratings are governed by the studios themselves through their Motion Picture Association of America, Ontario's film ratings are backed by the province's Film Classification Act, 2005, and associated regulations.

Since 2015, the Ontario Film Review Board has been administered by the non-profit Ontario Film Authority (OFA) "on behalf of the Ontario government," under the supervision of Ontario's Ministry of Government and Consumer Affairs. The OFA is funded by US$2.1 million per year in film classification fees from film distributors and licensing fees paid by film distributors, retailers and exhibitors.