Smoking: Big Issue for MPAA Ratings

May 11, 2007–The The Motion Picture Assn. of America (MPAA) announced Thursday that smoking in a film will be a factor in future ratings, though its pronouncement raises many questions.

“In the past, illegal teen smoking has been a factor in the rating of films, alongside other parental concerns such as sex, violence and adult language,” the MPAA said in a statement. “Now, all smoking will be considered, and depictions that glamorize smoking or movies that feature pervasive smoking outside of a historic or other mitigating context may receive a higher rating.”

MPAA includes a description of the reasons a film received a certain rating; that description could now add something like “includes pervasive smoking.”

Child advocacy groups and health organizations have long criticized Hollywood for movies that contribute to youth smoking. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has repeatedly cited movies as a key influence on teen smoking. The Harvard School of Public Health studied the issue at the request of the MPAA and recommended in February that studios “take substantive and effective action to eliminate the depiction of smoking from films accessible to children and youths.”

Parents told the MPAA that, while they noticed less smoking in movies in general, the scenes that did appear glamorized the habit, and they wanted to know about those scenes when deciding whether to let their kids see a picture, officials said.

“Clearly, smoking is increasingly an unacceptable behavior in our society,” MPAA topper Dan Glickman 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 appropriate response of the rating system is to give more information to parents on this issue.”

Glickman said that smoking will be one of “many other factors, including violence, sexual situations and language,” that will be considered when deciding on a rating.

“Three questions will have particular weight for our rating board when considering smoking in a film,” Glickman continued. “Is the smoking pervasive Does the film glamorize smoking And, is there an historic or other mitigating context”

Good Night, and Good Luck

For example, a film like “Good Night, and Good Luck,” a biopic of newsman Edward R. Murrow, would likely receive the same rating now as it did when it was released because Murrow was a smoker in an era when smoking was still prevalent, org officials said. But it would now likely contain a “pervasive smoking” descriptor.

But would Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart movies be rerated And will the smoking genuinely affect the rating or simply add more explanation to the MPAA description

Some critics have called for an automatic “R” rating for any movie containing smoking. Glickman called that an “extreme proposal,” saying that debate surrounding smoking in movies “has become heavily politicized, and many inaccurate statements have been made.”

One of those critics, Stan Glantz, professor or medicine at UC San Francisco and head of the advocacy group Smoke Free Movies, said of the announcement: “The good news is that studios were forced to do something. The bad news is it’s not going to make much difference. It’s just a placebo.”

Jim Steyer, CEO of family advocacy group Common Sense Media, called the announcement “a big step forward for the MPAA to connect the dots between onscreen behavior and the impact on kids’ health.” The Directors Guild of America also supported the announcement.

In a separate letter sent Thursday to 32 state attorneys general who urged the MPAA to accept the Harvard Public School of Health’s recommendation, Glickman informed them of the announcement and also promised “to actively support efforts to ensure state-funded smoking prevention and cessation campaigns are resurrected and continued.”

The MPAA also announced that, along with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, it has joined Hollywood Unfiltered, a voluntary, entertainment industry-led initiative to educate and raise awareness within the biz of the public health consequences of depicting smoking in movies and television.