When it comes to smoking in the movies, it looks like the butt might stop here. Harvard's School of Public Health is the latest organization to join in urging Hollywood studios to stamp out cigarette smoking in movies seen by young people. Executives from the major studios, NATO, the Director's Guild of America, the Screen Actor's Guild and NBC recently joined academics from Harvard and Johns Hopkins in meeting with the MPAA to discuss the issue. Smoking in movies has stirred up controversy for years -- a similar meeting was held back in 1999, but not much came of it. Anti-smoking groups want restrictions on smoking to be incorporated into the ratings system. Jay A. Winsten, Harvard School of Public Health associate dean, and director for the school's Center for Health Communication says: "What's needed is a movie ratings policy that creates an incentive for filmmakers to consider, and worry about, the depiction of smoking as a factor in the determination of a film's rating ... the goal should be the elimination (with rare exceptions) of smoking from youth-rated films."
The folks at Harvard presented statistics from a study where they found that 66% of the top-50 grossing films over a 12 month period (spanning 2004 and 2005) contained depictions of smoking. And 68% of PG-13 films over that time showed characters taking a puff. That broke down to 12.8 incidents of smoking per hour of running time -- the highest in a decade -- for the top-50 pics, and 14.2 depictions per hour of running time for the PG-13 movies. R-rated films over the same time period averaged 20.4 depictions per hour. Harvard School of Public Health dean Barry Bloom urged Tinseltown honchos to "take substantive and effective action to eliminate the depiction of tobacco smoking from films accessible to children and youths, and take leadership and credit for doing so. Don't ignore the issue or put a fig leaf on it, like a descriptor on DVDs. That would be the equivalent of the tobacco industry cynically putting smoking warnings on cigarette packages."
The Harvard speakers find depictions of smoking to be even more detrimental to our children than the other issues that ratings already cover. "No one has died from hearing the f-word," said Bloom. "But 438,000 people in U.S., and five million worldwide, die each year from tobacco-related illness. We appreciate that movies are expensive, complex and demanding to make. If you are honest I think you will admit that most smoking in movies is both unnecessary and cliched, and serves to make smoking socially acceptable to kids."