Study hits screen smoke


A new survey that claims to show a link between smoking on film and teenage tobacco use is giving ammunition to advocates of an automatic R rating for movies that feature smoking.

A study released Monday in the journal Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine proposes a direct link between viewing smoking in movies and established adolescent smoking.

Conducted by James Sargent at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Hanover, N.H., and funded by the National Cancer Institute and American Legacy Foundation, the study — "Exposure to Smoking Depictions in Movies: Its Association With Established Adolescent Smoking" — contends that it is the first national study to indicate that exposure to smoking in movies predicts whether young people will become lifelong smokers.

According to the study, youths who are exposed to movie smoking double their risk of becoming established smokers, who are at high risk to suffer the consequences of adult tobacco addiction.

The American Legacy Foundation is one of the most vocal advocates for an R rating for movies that contain a depiction of smoking.

"What we need to do to affect meaningful change is to keep smoking out of the G, PG and PG-13 films currently influencing our youth," said Cheryl Healton, American Legacy Foundation president and CEO. "As the summer movie blockbuster season comes to a close, we have witnessed some positive changes in the landscape in this arena."

In the spring, the MPAA announced a new ratings clarification to consider smoking as a factor when it rates movies.

Healton said that action had not gone far enough.

"The action failed to address the concerns of major public health groups and parents nationwide," she said. "We have seen the results of this empty policy; the first movie, 'Hairspray,' was tagged with a PG rating descriptor to include 'momentary teen smoking.' These MPAA actions will have little impact on youth exposure to movie smoking."

But industry executives accused American Legacy of being hypocritical. They contend that the organization's own guidelines allow smoking for historical context and other issues.

"If anything, this demonstrates how hypocritical they are," one industry executive said. "Here is a move set in the 1970s. People smoked (more) then. If that's not historical, what is?"

The executive defended the industry's actions, arguing that the step taken by the MPAA was extraordinary.

"We've taken as bold a step as any industry could be expected to take," he said.