“Adult ratings” for smoking in films would hardly help

The essay, by researchers at the University of Sydney and RTI International, objects to a draft policy being proposed by more than 20 public health agencies and the World Health Organization.

The policy, if adopted, would allow leading movie characters to accurately portray people who smoke cigarettes, but would assign adult ratings to movies in which nameless, faceless background characters smoke, unless they are scripted to speak against smoking.

Leonardo di Caprio smoking scene in Titanic.

Leonardo di Caprio smoking scene in Titanic.

However, the authors say the existing evidence fails to account for other adult content in movies with smoking, casting doubt on the evidence of a dose-response relationship between the presence of smoking in movie scenes and an increase in youth smoking.

“Most fundamentally, it is bad policy to regulate creative or cultural products like movies, books, art and theater,” said Simon Chapman, professor and director of research of the University of Sydney School of Public Health.

“The role of film in open societies involves far more than being simply a means to mass communicate healthy role models. Many movies depict social problems and people behaving badly, and smoking in movies mirrors the prevalence of smoking in populations.”

“No one would consider me a fan of the tobacco industry, but even I think the proposal circulating among public health officials to rate movies based on the presence of background cigarette smokers would likely do nothing to reduce youth smoking,” said Matthew Farrelly, Ph.D., chief scientist and senior director of RTI’s Public Health Policy Research Program.

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