Should Movies with Smoking Be Rated R?

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If cigarette smoking were banned from teen-friendly movies, would kids be less likely to pick up the habit? Researchers at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College think so.

In a two-year study, the researchers surveyed more than 6,500 young teens, aged 10 to 14, asking them which of a random selection of box-office hits they’d seen in the previous year. They also asked whether they’d ever tried smoking. The kids were interviewed three more times over two years, and not surprisingly, the researchers say, teens who watched movies with more smoking scenes were more likely to try smoking themselves.

The new study, published in the journal Pediatrics, isn’t the first to link media exposure to tobacco with smoking in teens. Earlier this year, in fact, the Surgeon General’s report on tobacco and youth concluded that there is sufficient evidence that watching movie smoking causes teens to pick up the habit. Still, researchers say it hasn’t been clear from previous research whether it’s on-screen smoking per se or other adult behaviors in films — the sex and violence that accompany smoking — that affect teens’ behavior.

(MORE: Study: Does Alcohol in Movies Drive Teens to Binge Drink?)

So the Dartmouth researchers looked more closely at the “dose” of smoking teens got from movies by rating. They found on average that teens saw 275 smoking scenes in PG-13 movies and 93 smoking scenes in R-rated films. (G- and PG-rated movies typically did not show smoking and weren’t linked to teenagers’ smoking, the study found.) If other R-rated behaviors in movies were encouraging teens to smoke, then presumably those who watched more adult-friendly films would be more likely to pick up the habit. But regardless of the ratings of the movies teens saw, the effect of smoking scenes on their behavior remained the same, the study found.

The authors’ conclusion: make all movies with smoking rated R. Given that roughly 60% of teens’ movie smoking exposure comes from movies that are rated for teen viewing, if smoking were eliminated from PG-13 films, the authors estimate that the number of youth who try cigarettes could drop by 18%.

“The film industry has known about the relationship between smoking in movies and kids smoking for years and it still has not meaningfully incorporated smoking into its rating system. What we want them to do is give an unambiguous R rating for smoking,” said Dr. James Sargent, a professor of pediatrics at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College, in a statement. “Just as kids shouldn’t be watching extreme violence or extreme sex, they shouldn’t be watching smoking.”

(MORE: Children Who Hear Swear Words on TV Are More Aggressive)

Most smokers get hooked early, before the age of 18, according to the Surgeon General. It starts as an occasional thing in youth and then escalates into an everyday habit. The long-term damage of smoking is well known, but there are also more immediate health effects in teens and young adults, including reduced lung function, asthma and hardening of the arteries — precursors to other chronic diseases.

“It’s a terrible thing when a kid starts smoking, and the idea that what they see in the movies can cause that and can be responsible for that is something we take very seriously for public health because smoking causes a lot of bad diseases in our population,” said Dr. Sargent.

Whether or not the Motion Picture Association of America includes smoking in its rating system, the researchers note that it’s still up to parents to monitor what and how much their teens watch. Youngsters shouldn’t be watching more two movies a week and they shouldn’t be exposed to R-rated content until late in adolescence, says Sargent. “The next step for us is to motivate and help parents limit access to these movies. Teens still get a lot of exposure to smoking from rated R movies,” he says.

MORE: Profanity in Teen Novels: Characters Who Curse Are Often the Most Desirable

8 comments
Fatesrider
Fatesrider

If only smoking caused people to die before they bred.  It would be a viable evolutionary tool to thin the herd of simple-minded, "follow-me's" who are easily influenced due to a complete lack of critical thinking skills.  Stupidity like that should have lethal consequences before those genes are passed on to the next generation.

VictoriaNarcisi
VictoriaNarcisi

Yes, you can rid the world of addiction, but what would be left would be the uncreative, not hardworking person...the one you need to get the job done. Education and compassion is what is needed.

Firozali A.Mulla
Firozali A.Mulla

Missed a meeting or flaked out on a friend? Start abiding by the whisky rule, and you'll owe someone a bottle of the good stuff next time. Entrepreneur Ned Dwyer explains.

The Whisky Rule is pretty simple. If you cancel a meeting with less than 10 minutes notice, or if you miss it completely, then you owe your counterpart a bottle of whisky.

Everyone's time is important but sometimes mistakes happen. Rather than any sense of ill will being generated, the mistake should be settled. The party who was left waiting should be compensated in some small way for their time.

I've been using the whisky rule for a couple of years. I'm generally pretty punctual and keep a close eye on my calendar, but from time to time I'll slip up and completely forget a meeting or get stuck doing something else that I can't get out of. In those situations I'm more than happy to sling a bottle of whisky to my counterpart as an apology and a sort of olive branch, hoping they'll forgive me and we can make it up the next time we meet.

Likewise, if someone cancels on me or just doesn't show up, I don't get too hot and bothered by it. Instead, I let them know about the whisky rule—if they really want to meet up again they should come bearing a Laphroaig or some obscure small batchJapanese whisky.

It keeps things honest.

So far the whisky rule has worked out pretty well for me. I've been given about four bottles of whisky and I've given six away. I just bought a desk calendar and I hope I'll make up those two extra bottles and get beyond the break even of the whisky rule.

LaurieMann
LaurieMann

Oh, yes, of course we should rate almost every movie made before about 1990 with an R since almost all of them contain scenes of smoking...

As much as I don't allow smoking in my own home and used to look for restaurants that were smokefree before the laws banning public smoking were enacted, I think showing some amount of smoking in movies is reasonable.  Kids are going to see people smoke or drink.  I agree with evanj1492 that parents need to discuss smoking with their kids.  I had many relatives who smoked and some of them died from smoking-related illnesses.  That showed me why I shouldn't smoke.

ConcernedCitizen1984
ConcernedCitizen1984

I agree. While cutting back on showing harmful lifestyles (smoking, eating junk/fast food, binge drinking, etc.) in movies may be a nice thought, kids are still going to see these movies regardless of how they are rated. The only place they won't be allowed to see the movie is at the theater. They can still watch it when it comes out on DVD or on Netflix, or simply download it off of the internet. 

The real problem with kids developing unhealthy habits is with the parents. If they educated their kids at a young age about the dangers of smoking, and went beyond the "Just Say No" script and had a real conversation with their children, we might see an improvement in these statistics. 

Media is absolutely a force that should be analyzed, but putting all (or most) of the blame on media instead of parents is wrong. 

f_galton
f_galton

You can only shield your kids so much from the fact that smoking is fun and cool.  

evanj1492
evanj1492

Of course movies with smoking should be rated R! I started smoking as a teen because I saw Cruella de Vil smoking like a chimney in the 101 Dalmatians movie. I also think we should follow Mayor Bloomberg's lead and make movies that feature characters consuming more than 16 oz. of soda rated R. Or we could have meaningful conversations with teenagers detailing what a fulfilling and healthy lifestyle looks like.