The End of Smoking in Movies

Posted on October 3, 2007

Smoking in movies is well on its way to being extinct. Consumer groups have been successful in getting depictions of smoking banned in film marketed to children. Some major studios don't feature much smoking at all, unless it's for a period piece or is really necessary for the plot. The policing has been voluntary on the studios' part, but the idea of censorship infuriates some directors.

The New York Times reports that the industry is being urged to consider smoking as a ratings factor.

Under pressure from an antismoking lobby unsatisfied by a promise that the industry's trade group made in May to consider tobacco use as a factor in film ratings, the six largest studio owners have been patching together individual responses to those who want cigarettes out of films rated G, PG or PG-13.

Smoking opponents view the result as surprising progress toward a virtual ban on tobacco images in all but films with R or NC-17 ratings.

Yet Hollywood is also waking to the realization that a committed band of advocates is rapidly changing what is permissible in the movies. And that precedent could embolden other groups campaigning to rid movies of portrayals of gun use, transfat consumption or other behavior that can be proved harmful to the public.

Bill Condon, who wrote and directed Dreamgirls, says the smoking ban is a "chilling idea." He tells The Times, "Movies are supposed to reflect reality. You're taking away a detail that is one of the more defining aspects of a lifestyle."

The Times story also notes that you won't find any tobacco using pirates in Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean. We hadn't noticed that not one naughty pirate in Pirates of the Caribbean was a tobacco user until we read this article. Still, perhaps with all those wooden ships, it was all for the best. We hate to be cynical, but this is really about money, not anti-smoking groups. Surveys show that parents don't want smoking in movies marketed to kids. Therefore, either the smoking gets cut or the parents and kids stay away from family films. That's why GE has issued such an edict.

Films marketed to adults are another issue, entirely. Let the directors do what they want.

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