R-rating resolution falls a vote short in Cal. Assembly

After breezing through the California State Senate, a resolution recommending that Hollywood stop recruiting millions of kids to smoke was smothered in an Assembly Committee on Tuesday — just one vote shy of escaping onto the Assembly floor and winning a quick victory for California families.

The movie business has outsized clout for its size in California, the fifth largest economy in the world. While the major studios’ lobbyists in the MPAA spoke against SCR 143 in the Senate — and lost — they stayed out of sight in key Assembly members’ decisions to abstain from voting. (Abstentions are a notorious way for legislators to sink a popular bill without actually going on record against it.) 

Somewhere behind the $100 billion movie business is the shadow of the $700 billion tobacco industry, which ultimately benefits from smoking on screen. 

The Surgeon General and others have used tobacco industry documents to show that Big Tobacco has spent millions of dollars over decades to get smoking on screen and keep it there. The R-rating is designed to counter Big Tobacco's persistent payoffs and reserve smoking for adult audiences, who are much less susceptible to be recruited to smoke than kids are. 

The advisory resolution enjoyed the support of every major medical and health organization in the state. The updated R-rating is also backed by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is concerned about the nearly half million Americans killed by tobacco each year, and by institutional investors, who are concerned about media companies’ acting like tobacco companies.

Public opinion polls find strong support for making future kid-rated films smokefree. The California Senate robustly passed the resolution last month on a vote of 24-8, with supporters from both parties. The resolution was sponsored by Sen. Pan, a pediatrician who represents Sacramento and chairs the Senate Health Committee.

On Tuesday, four Assembly Democrats were persuaded to abstain from SCR 143 and deny it the one-vote majority to pass — discounting the death threat that movies present to 160,000 California schoolchildren. They are:

            • Wendy Carillo (D-51, Highland Park-East Los Angeles, inc. USC Medical School)

            • Autumn R. Burke (D-62, Inglewood-Hawthorne)

            • Cecilia M. Aguiar-Curry (D-4, Davis-Clearlake)

            • Adrin Nazarian (D-46, Van Nuys)

The seven Assembly members who voted forthrightly for the resolution to pass SCR 143 in the Assembly Health Committee are:

            • Jim Wood, Chair (D-02, North Coast)

            • Rob Bonta (D-18, Alameda)

            • Monique Límon (D-37, Santa Barbara)

            • Kevin McCarty (D-07, Sacramento)

            • Freddie Rodriguez (D-52, Chino-Ontario)

            • Miguel Santiago (D-53, Los Angeles-Vernon)

            • Tony Thurmond (D-15, Richmond-Berkeley)

We thank all Senators and Assembly members for their support. One little letter “R” will save a million lives. Yesterday, one vote blocked it. But only temporarily.