MLN takes no position on this legislation. MLN believes that people who are empowered with media literacy skills will better understand media systems and will have the tools to advocate for changes to those systems that they want to see.

Cigarette smoking in California movies for adults only?

by Julia Bell

California leads the world in high-grossing movies depicting cigarette smoking. But these movies may not be directed at kids for much longer. A Senate-passed resolution would urge movie studios to give an R rating to any new movie that “shows or implies smoking or tobacco use.”

From 2010 to 2016, tobacco use in PG-13 movies increased 43 percent according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The surgeon general declared in a 2012 report that seeing cigarettes in films causes an increased chance of smoking among young people. Senate Concurrent Resolution 143, Senator Pan’s proposition, would limit virtual second-hand smoke for young audiences.

Definitely, Maybe, 2008. In this film, Will (Ryan Reynolds) and April (Isla Fisher) bet whose cigarette brand smokes longer, kindling a movie-length, off-and-on romance. New York State taxpayers subsidized the film. Screenshot and description courtesy of Smoke Free Movies.

The R rating for smoke-filled content could curb teen smoking onset, according to a study from Norris Cotton Cancer Center. The bill would also incentivize filmmakers to subtract smoking from their movies to earn the PG-13 rating.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has argued that the ban would be an infringement on their 1st Amendment right to free speech. They also disputed the study results that connect the link between smoking in kids’ movies and teen smokers, calling them “too attenuated and speculative to support damages” during a 2016 lawsuit.

Detractors of the smoking ban also say that the law could pave the way for movies to earn R ratings for depictions of anything deemed unsavory—from fatty foods to gambling to bullying.

However, a letter signed by seven US senators called the evidence linking smoking imagery to real-life onset “strong” and admonished the MPAA for having “yet to take meaningful action against tobacco imagery in films.” Supporters claim that movies with cool, ash-flicking smokers are essentially free advertising for the tobacco industry, who are not allowed to buy product placement in films.

If cigarettes are stripped from kids’ movies, will Juuling replace cigarettes as the screen’s oral fixation? Even though hitting a Juul (especially the crème-brûlée flavor) may not have the same cool factor as a cigarette drag, e-cigarettes are also included in Pan’s proposed ban.

The Senate Concurrent Resolution, introduced by California Senator Richard Pan (D), passed 24-8 on July 2. A resolution expresses the preferences of lawmakers, but does not have the force of law. The proposal is currently held at the Assembly desk, where it awaits referral to a committee.

Julia Bell is a senior studying English at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. She’s interested in media, especially in understanding how children understand culture through media.




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