The decision by the Motion Picture Association of America last month to begin using its rating system to warn parents when movies “glamourise” smoking was Hollywood’s first – and to some critics of the industry, long overdue – acknowledgement of the powerful role movies play in creating thousands of new smokers every year.
But the MPAA stopped well short of applying a restrictive R rating to all pictures in which there is smoking, or even when the presence of cigarettes is “pervasive,” a move that would have cost the studios a large part of their most lucrative cash crop: children under 17, who also just happen to be the most impressionable group of potential smokers. And that left anti-smoking organisations fuming.
“What they’ve done is inadequate,” says Ellen Vargyas, general counsel of the American Legacy Foundation, an anti-smoking organization. “Basically they said, `We’ll look at smoking, and if the spirit moves us, we may issue a warning.’ But there are no standards.” And American Medical Association chairman Cecil B. Wilson huffed that by failing to make all movie smoking R-rated, “the MPAA has ignored the gravity of the health threat that on-screen smoking poses to children and teens.”
As one of America’s most powerful corporate cartels, the Hollywood studios can afford to give ground grudgingly, and when they do, they don’t like having smoke blown in their face. “There is a very, very small fringe that has taken an unyielding, and increasingly unreasonable position on this,” says Seth Oster, executive vice-president for communications of the MPAA. “And they fail to recognize anything as being constructive if it falls short of their extreme demands.”
The MPAA has long insisted that its rating system – devised 40 years ago to ward off the threat of government …