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Should Movies Be Rated "R" for Smoking?

Automatic R-ratings would protect teens, who are heavily influenced by on-screen smoking, researchers say.

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By Bryan Le

07/10/12

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Kids are influenced by what they see in the movies—so if sex and drugs trigger an R-rating, why not smoking? A recent study published in Pediatrics suggests that movies that contain actors smoking tobacco should earn an R rating to protect young, impressionable viewers. The study reveals that two-thirds of smoking scenes viewed by teens are from PG-13 movies—and every 500 smoking scenes a teen sees—even in the background—increases their likelihood of cigarette experimentation by 49%. “The movie industry [should] treat smoking like it treats profanity and sex and violence," says lead author Dr. James D. Sargent. "If saying the 'F' word twice gets you an R rating, certainly something as important as smoking should get you an R rating." The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) released a statement claiming that its rating system already takes smoking in to account, seeking to balance the “serious health problem” with “freedom of expression and speech and storytelling.” Currently, movies with smoking scenes are rated depending on factors such as frequency, glamorization and historical relevance—and 54% of movies made since 2007 have at least one smoking scene. But critics say the MPAA's standards aren't tough enough, especially considering that teens are highly susceptible to what they see on screen. "Adolescents are trying to figure out what they're all about and what their identity is," says Sargent. "They figure this out by watching their parents and their friends, and movie stars are like very high-profile peers. When they see people [smoking], they think this might make them look cool. As they become more convinced there's something in it for them, they become more likely to try it."

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