The whole basis of the MPAA's voluntary (unlike the BBFC, it doesn't have statutory powers, but its ratings are followed by most major retailers and exhibitors) rating system faces a legal challenge, with the tobacco industry keen to ensure that smoking on screen is ... accessible to children.
|Perhaps the classic image of Hollywood glamour, Audrey Hepburn|
Many images of classic Hollywood glamour include smoking - take the examples (see this Mirror article for more)
The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is attempting to defend itself against a legal complaint about smoking in films deemed suitable for children by claiming that movie ratings are opinions. Smoking in movies: film-makers just can't kick the habit
The MPAA, facing a suit that hopes to see smoking imagery banned from films rated G, PG or PG-13, is arguing that the ban would be an infringement of the first amendment right to free speech. They argue that the ratings should reflect what most US parents would think suitable viewing for their children.
The MPAA, facing a suit that hopes to see smoking imagery banned from films rated G, PG or PG-13, is arguing that the ban would be an infringement of the first amendment right to free speech. They argue that the ratings should reflect what most US parents would think suitable viewing for their children. Now the plaintiffs, led by Timothy Forsyth, are arguing that movie ratings are not protected by the first amendment, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
They argue that the link between on-screen smoking and teenage uptake is scientifically provable and their complaint is therefore about false advertising. “The complaint asserts that defendants cannot affix a PG-13 or lower certification on movies with tobacco imagery, because they know that it has been scientifically established that subjecting children to such imagery will result in the premature death of more than a million of them,” said Forsyth and co in a new memo.
The plaintiffs had previously noted the strong link between tobacco use on screen and uptake by young people, saying that about 4.6 million adolescents were recruited by youth-rated movies to smoking. Among the blockbusters they used as examples were Spectre, Transformers: Age of Extinction and The Woman in Black. The MPAA has argued that the link between on-screen smoking and uptake by youths is “too attenuated and speculative to support damages”.
The case, which is ongoing, could significantly alter the way films are rated if it is decided in favour of the plaintiffs and potentially clear the way for further suitscovering alcohol use, gambling and high-speed driving.
Ban on smoking in movies 'infringes free speech', says MPAA.
Should this movie (15-rated) have been made an 18 for this scene? Smoking is illegal for under-16s in the UK...
This is a major issue for the BBFC too, and research suggests there is a real protection of children issue at stake:
Films that depict actors smoking cigarettes should carry the same age classification as those containing sex and violence, according to experts. Researchers from the University of Bristol found that 15-year-olds who saw the most films showing actors puffing on a cigarette were 73% more likely to have tried one than those who has seen the least.
They were also almost 50% more likely to be a current smoker than those least exposed. The UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies has called on the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) and the Government to review their policies on film classification, arguing that under-18s need to be protected from potentially harmful imagery.
Dr Andrea Waylen, who led the medical research, said: "More than half the films shown in the UK that contain smoking are rated UK15 or below, so children and young teenagers are clearly exposed.
The anti-smoking group ASH has long campaigned on this.
BBFC wrote about the smoking issue in 2009.
Here's a quote from a 2011 BBC interview with BBFC chief David Cooke - a very useful one if you're writing on this subject:
"There is, however, no public support for automatically classifying, for instance, a PG film at 18 just because it happens to contain a scene of smoking. We always look carefully at all research on this and related subjects drawn to our attention.
"Experience suggests, with media effects research generally, that attempts to claim a causal link between a particular depiction and a particular behaviour are often disputed and seldom conclusive." [my emphasis added]
The issue won't disappear in a puff of smoke ... February 2016 saw the WHO (World Health Organisation) getting involved, calling for high age ratings for films featuring smoking (Mirror article):
Movies which show smoking should be given an adult rating, health chiefs say.The World Health Organisation demanded the move to protect millions of children from the tobacco industry.In a new report, it called on governments to do more to prevent children and adolescents from one of the “last” frontiers in tobacco promotion.Dr Douglas Bettcher, WHO’s director for the department of prevention of non-communicable diseases, added: “With ever tighter restrictions on tobacco advertising, film remains one of the last channels exposing millions of adolescents to smoking imagery without restrictions.“Smoking in films can be a strong form of promotion for tobacco products.”The BBFC responded:
The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) said the last review of its guidelines, in 2013, involved more than 10,000 members of the public from across the UK.“The public agrees that the classification of smoking in films should be proportionate and reflective of UK laws.“For example, a scene of an adult smoking in a film should not instantly require an 18 classification,” the BBFC said in a statement.“However, glamorisation of smoking in works that appeal to children is more likely to receive a higher classification.”They cover smoking in their official guidelines.