As film buffs across BC anticipate the Oscars this weekend, health advocates are asking why young audiences end up as the biggest losers. Of the thirteen movies up for Academy Awards this year that portray smoking, all except two are youth-rated in BC.
Why is smoking in movies an issue?
The history of the tobacco industry’s collaboration with Hollywood, including payment for the placement of tobacco products in movies, is well documented. Film is better than any commercial that has been run on television or in any magazine, because the audience is totally unaware of any sponsor involvement. Today, tobacco use in films remains widespread.
The influence of smoking in movies on young people should not be surprising, given the pervasive influence of Hollywood on popular culture and the fact that most other vehicles of tobacco promotion have been banned.
Tobacco imagery and brands are still depicted in more than half of all films rated PG-13 in the US and 14A in Canada. As well, it is still very common for leading actors and actresses to smoke on-screen, giving rise to speculation about whether payments to moviemakers are still being made, however covertly.
There is broad global consensus that smoking in movies is harmful to youth and should be rated as “adult”. In BC, the adult rating is 18A.
The World Health Organization, US Centre for Disease Control and others world-wide, including Lung Associations across Canada have all endorsed the "adult" rating for future movies with tobacco imagery with two possible exceptions: movies portraying actual historical people who actually smoked (biographical dramas and documentaries) or in films depicting the serious health consequences of tobacco use.
What can you do?
As a parent: Talk with your children about the movies they’re watching. Support them to be media savvy. Encourage them to be aware of product placement and lifestyle marketing in movies. Parents should also inform themselves about the movies before viewing. There are websites such screenit.com that provide information for parents.
As a concerned citizen: You can contact your MLA and let them know that you want smoke-free movies for youth.