WASHINGTON -- Three years after the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) announced they would include smoking when assigning ratings to films, a new report shows that more than half of widely released films showing tobacco were youth rated (that is, carrying a rating of G, PG or PG-13).
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According to this analysis, the film industry rated and released 216 box office films with tobacco imagery between May 10, 2007 and May 9, 2010. More than half (53 percent) of these films were youth-rated. Only 15 percent of youth-rated films with smoking were labeled as containing "smoking" under the MPAA/NATO rating system.
"To date, the MPAA and NATO policy has failed to accurately and effectively rate movies for smoking content. As a result, the nation's youth are still exposed to billions of toxic tobacco impressions," said Cheryl G. Healton, DrPH, President and CEO of Legacy. "We see this as a great opportunity for the new head of MPAA to take on this issue."
For many years, public health advocates and researchers have been calling on the film industry to eliminate smoking in movies accessible to young people. On-screen exposure to tobacco imagery accounts for an estimated 180,000 new youth smokers annually.
The report on MPAA/NATO ratings performance released by the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails and funded in part by Legacy, shows that the film industry's trade associations consistently understated the amount of smoking in wide-release films marketed to children and adolescents:
-- Smoking "descriptors" were added for only 15 percent (17/115) of nationally-released, youth-rated films with smoking.
-- Half of the descriptors minimized the amount of smoking in films, describing it as "brief," "incidental" or "momentary" regardless of the actual amount of smoking in the film;
-- Descriptors were not applied to films with relatively low tobacco incidence, but these films delivered the majority of tobacco impressions to theater audiences.
-- No film was awarded an R-rating for tobacco use as recommended by a broad coalition of health authorities, including Legacy, American Academy of Pediatrics, Los Angeles and New York Department of Health and World Health Organization.
In the three-year period surveyed, popular U.S. films of all ratings delivered 44 billion tobacco impressions to theater audiences. Half were delivered by youth-rated films. Only 15 percent of tobacco impressions were delivered by films with smoking descriptors (18 percent for May 2009-May 2010).
"The major studios and large theater chains promised parents a rating system that would give parents the information they needed to make appropriate judgments," Healton said. "Instead, they have refused to modernize their rating system to give smoking films the R-rating they need to truly help parents. Far from that, they have only labeled a small fraction of films with smoking, suggesting that smoking is not a problem."
"The MPAA has missed repeated opportunities to do the right thing. It's time for the major studios and theater chains that control the rating system to adopt the R-rating for future smoking and resolve this long-standing problem once and for all," said Dr. Stanton Glantz, Professor of Medicine at UCSF and director of the Smoke Free Movies project. "After 80 years, Hollywood should stop smoking around kids."
According to research, more than one-third to one-half of youth smoking initiation can be traced to exposure to smoking in films, a conclusion supported by the National Cancer Institute. The landmark 1998 Master Settlement Agreement recognized the enormous impact film has on our culture and banned paid tobacco product placement in movies. Despite those efforts, smoking in movies continues to recruit more than 180,000 new adolescent smokers each year.
The President's Cancer Panel and the Institute of Medicine recognized this and recommended that meaningful efforts be made to eliminate or counter exposure to the billions of smoking impressions that Hollywood delivers to young movie-goers.
Legacy has joined a host of prominent health and parents organizations – including the World Health Organization, American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and more – to urge the MPAA and its member studios to adopt four evidence-based policies that would help prevent hundreds of thousands of U.S. adolescents from starting to smoke and avert tens of thousands of future tobacco deaths. The Smoke Free Movies policy solutions include:
1) Add strong and effective anti-smoking ads before all movies in which tobacco is depicted.
2) Certify that nothing of value was received in exchange for the depiction of tobacco in a movie.
3) End all brand appearances.
4) Rate any new movie with smoking as R.