Health groups want movie characters to put out their cigarettes -- or get an R rating
"Anybody got a match?"
The sultry Lauren Bacall asking Humphrey Bogart for a light in the iconic "To Have and Have Not" is a scene seared in movie lover's hearts. But if a new report on smoking in movies has any effect on the Motion Picture Association of America, no one will have a match in film anymore unless the film bears an R rating.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report, "Smoking in Top Grossing Movies -- United States, 1991-2009," tracking the times smoking showed up in cinema over 19 years. In 2009, theater audiences were exposed to 17 billion smoking impressions. Though it might sound like a lot, that's actually an improvement, according to the report. That year was also the first since the study began that the majority of films did not show smoking.
There has been a growing effort over the past decade from groups such as Smoke Free Movies and SceneSmoking.org, which hosts the annual Hackademy Awards, to pressure Hollywood into cutting back the amount of smoking in films.
Now those groups are getting government support for their cause from US Reps. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass) and Joseph Pitts (R-PA) and from a group of health organizations, including Legacy, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization.
Movies have a big impact on whether or not children will smoke, Ursula E. Bauer, a director at the CDC, said in a telephone interview. About 44 percent of youth initiation stems from repeated viewings of smoking in movie theaters. An R-rating on movies would lessen the influence on children.
"We have a problem with youth smoking rates in this country," Bauer said. "It is a tragedy that will not end."
Craig Hoffman, a communications consultant for the Motion Pictures Association of America, said in a statement: "There is broad awareness of smoking as a unique public health concern due to nicotine's highly addictive nature, and no parent wants their child to take up the habit."
The statement implied that there would be no changes to policy, explaining that its rating classification provides the necessary information for a parent to make a decision whether or not their children should see a film. "Our research shows that parents are very clear to us that they--not the industry and certainly not the government--should determine what is appropriate viewing for their kids," the statement said.
Hollywood has had a hard time kicking the habit, but smoking in the movies has gone into decline over the past few years.
Stanton Glantz, one of the authors of the report and director of the Smoke Free Movies project, said some movies that cling to cigarettes help his cause to get rid of smoking. James Cameron's "Avatar" saw Sigorney Weaver's character ask for a cigarette in the opening scene. A public outcry over the uselessness of the scene helped increase awareness about Glantz's cause.
"I sent James Cameron a fruit basket with a thank-you note," Glantz said.
Whether this will trickle down to television remains to be seen, but "Mad Men" fans might have a bit of a hard time adjusting to a show without a smoke dangling from Don Draper's lips.
-- Melissa Bell
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