“Media influences, such as movies, have a profound impact on the adolescent self-concept,” whether it is through violence or making a character look more attractive, grownup or cool by smoking. The tobacco industry understands this and for decades has played into these adolescent images and concepts by showing smoking scenes in movies designed for youth and teens. The Motion Picture Association of America has finally been hit with a proposed class action lawsuit regarding their film rating system and it could change the way tobacco in films is rated. Right now it all hinges on being “accepted by a judge and not barred by the First Amendment.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the majority of adult smokers, nearly 9 out of 10, start smoking before age 18. Too many lower rated “G,” “PG,” and “PG-13” movies contain tobacco scenes, exposing minors early on to tobacco and smoking, influencing their tobacco use, and increasing their risk of becoming regular smokers. The major Hollywood film studios have known about this issue “since at least 2003” and “have been given recommendations from health experts,” but continue “to stamp ‘their seal of approval’ on films meant for children that feature tobacco imagery.”
According to the complaint between 2003 when studios were made aware of this issue and 2015 “approximately 4.6 million adolescents in the U.S.” were recruited to smoke through film imagery. Of those, “1.5 million are expected to die from tobacco-induced diseases in years to come.” If the film studios are allowed to continue with tobacco imagery in films designed for youth, an additional “3.2 million American children alive today” will begin to smoke and “one million of those will die prematurely from tobacco-related diseases.”
The film rating system took effect in 1968 and although it is considered “voluntary,” over time it appears to be more enforced. It wasn’t until 2007 that “smoking was added as a factor in the film rating process.” While most parents turn to the ratings to help with film choices and the majority “agree that the rating system is accurate in the classification of movies,” more needs to be done to limit tobacco exposure to minors. Film goers see the glamorous, sexy, tough guy, cool factor, but they rarely see the negative health effects of tobacco use.