B.C. group calls for restricted ratings for movies featuring smoking
By Yolande Cole Publish Date: February 19, 2011
A B.C. group wants to see films featuring tobacco use given a restricted rating to help prevent smoking among young people.
Smoke Free Movies BC is gathering support for a petition that recommends new movies featuring smoking be given an R rating.
“We really believe that the way to stop people smoking is to have one generation not start, and that will strangle tobacco,” organizer Pamela McColl told the Straight in a phone interview.
“The money behind tobacco is immense, and the only way to compete with this is to get kids to think it’s vile that movies are promoting smoking to them, which is going to rob them of their health and steal their money from them over a lifetime.”
Locals and organizations endorsing the campaign include Leonard Schein, the president of Festival Cinemas; Patricia Daly, the Chief Medical Officer for Vancouver Coastal Health; the Canadian Cancer Society; and the B.C. Lung Association.
The petition is based on recommendations made by the World Health Organization and by a Physicians for Smoke-Free Canada study released in August 2010.
According to the study, about 300,000 high-school aged children in Canada are smokers. They estimate about 130,000 of these youth began smoking as a result of exposure to on-screen tobacco use.
McColl said youth in Canada are exposed to tobacco images in films 60 percent more than Americans, due to the film rating system used here.
The recommendations call for new movies to be classified with an R rating, except for when tobacco “clearly and unambiguously reflects the dangers and consequences of tobacco use” or when it’s necessary to represent smoking by a historical figure, and to strengthen the home video rating scheme for films featuring smoking.
The group is also pushing to require movie producers to indicate on screen that no one involved in the film received anything of value in exchange for displaying tobacco, to require strong anti-smoking ads at the beginning of any movie with tobacco use ,and to bar public subsidies to youth-rated films featuring tobacco use.
“We think that Canadian governments can take steps to help protect our younger generation and protect our smoking rates from increasing among these young people in British Columbia,” said Christina Tonella, the regional manager of tobacco reduction for Vancouver Coastal Health. “We’ve really enhanced our smoking bylaws, we’ve done all these things for de-normalization—I think this is really the missing link now.”
Schein, who manages a number of Vancouver theatres including the Fifth Avenue Cinemas, said the goal of the campaign is to encourage movie producers to avoid featuring smoking in movies.
“I think young people in particular get influenced by role models, [such] as actors and actresses in movies, and smoking is still the number one cause of cancer, and I think young people just don’t think about what may occur to their body years from now,” said Schein.
Schein said he doesn’t think implementing more restricted ratings would impact attendance at theatres like his, where he noted the vast majority of their audience is already over 18.
“Restricted rating means a parent or an adult can take someone under 18 to a movie, so it’s not stopping people from going to the movies, it’s not censoring movies, it’s giving information the way we have ratings on all sorts of things,” he said.
But the owner and general manager of the Rio Theatre, Corinne Lea, sees an R rating as too extreme.
“I think it’s good for the parents to be informed, so people know this film contains smoking—that I’m totally fine with, and then people have the choice,” she said. “But rated R I think is way too extreme.”
Lea speculated that music videos and television also have a high impact on young people.
“I think they’re more influenced by musicians and music than they are movies, and I think it’s something that comes more from their peers,” said Lea. “What are they going to do about television—is TV going to have no smoking on it?”
The Smoke Free Movies BC campaign is based on an initiative in the United States led by Stanton Glantz, the director of the San Francisco Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California. A similar campaign was launched in Ontario in May 2010.
The B.C. campaign coincides with what Smoke Free Movies is calling World Action week on the issue from February 20 to 27.