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MPAA makes smoking bigger factor in film ratings

By The Associated Press
05.14.07

LOS ANGELES — Smoking will be a bigger factor in determining film ratings in the U.S., the Motion Picture Association of America says, but critics said the move does not go far enough to discourage teens from taking up the habit.

MPAA Chairman Dan Glickman said on May 10 that his group's rating board, which previously had considered underage smoking in assigning film ratings, now will take into account smoking by adults, as well.

That adds smoking to a list of such factors as sex, violence and language in determining the MPAA's G, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17 ratings.

A G rating is for general audiences, PG suggests parental guidance, PG-13 suggests parental guidance for children under 13, R is for movies restricted to viewers 17 or older unless accompanied by guardian, and NC-17 means no one under 17 will be admitted.

Film raters will consider the pervasiveness of tobacco use, whether it glamorizes smoking and the context in which smoking appears, as in movies set in the past when smoking was more common.

Some critics of Hollywood's depictions of tobacco in films have urged that movies that show smoking be assigned an R rating.

"I'm glad it's finally an issue they're taking up, but what they're proposing does not go far enough and is not going to make a difference," said Kori Titus, spokeswoman for Breathe California, which opposes film images of tobacco use that might encourage young people to start smoking.

Glickman said a mandatory R rating for smoking would not "further the specific goal of providing information to parents on this issue."

Smoking in movies with a G, PG or PG-13 rating has been on the decline, and the "percentage of films that included even a fleeting glimpse of smoking" declined from 60 percent to 52 percent between July 2004 and July 2006," Glickman said.

Of those films, three-fourths received an R rating for other reasons, he said.

"That means there's not a great amount of films in the unrestricted category as it stands," said Joan Graves, who heads the ratings board. "We've not saying we're ignoring the issue. We're trying the best way possible according to what we've learned from parents to give them information about what's in a film."

Titus said smoking in films had declined in recent years but remains more prevalent than MPAA figures indicate.

Descriptions on sex, violence and language that accompany movie ratings now will include such phrases as "glamorized smoking" or "pervasive smoking," Glickman said.

If rated today, a film such as 2005's "Good Night, and Good Luck," about chain-smoking newsman Edward R. Murrow, would have carried a "pervasive smoking" tag but probably would have retained its PG rating because of its historical context in the 1950s, Graves said.

Titus said film raters should be as tough on smoking as they are on bad language to minimize the effects of on-screen smoking on children, including her own 5-year-old daughter.

"I don't want her using that language, but last time I checked, she's probably not going to die from that," Titus said. "If she starts smoking from these images she sees in movies, chances are she's probably going to die early from that."

While Titus' group wants tougher rating restrictions, the MPAA released statements of support for its plan from John Seffrin, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society, U.S. Sen. Joe Biden and filmmaker Rob Reiner, among others.

"By placing smoking on a par with considerations of violence and sex, the rating board has acknowledged the public-health dangers to children associated with glamorized images of a toxic and lethal addiction to tobacco," Barry Bloom, dean of the Harvard School of Public Health, said in a statement.


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