On Friday, November 11, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that the Motion Picture Association of America is allowed to assign whatever rating they want — G, PG, or PG-13 — to a movie that depicts tobacco use. His ruling rejects “an argument that the practice is a form of commercial speech that dangerously encourages kids to smoke.”
The suit was brought against the MPAA and the National Association of Theatre Owners by Timothy Forsyth, a father who took his two kids to a PG-13 film and was angered by the “tobacco imagery” on the screen. He felt tobacco scenes should require an “R” rating unless “the dangers and consequences” of its use is reflected in the story or it represents “a real historical figure who actually used tobacco.” His argument was that movie ratings are “pure commercial speech,” making them subject to restrictions that protect the public interest.”
Forsyth used arguments from the 2012 Surgeon General’s report, as well as statistics from the Center for Disease Control 2014 report that stated “exposure of children to tobacco imagery in films causes children to smoke.” A 2016 report found between 2002 and 2015 tobacco use and smoking was in 59% of PG-13 movies.
The judge didn’t buy the arguments and instead said “movie ratings are a form of protected speech.” The films themselves “are not mere commercial produces (sic) but are expressive works…and plainly entitled to full First Amendment protection.” MPAA’s Classification and Rating Administration (CARA) did say “it would consider tobacco imagery as a factor in assigning ratings,” but said a mandatory “R” rating is out of the question.
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