Why Some Movies Are Bad for Your Teen’s Health
References to smoking, drinking and drug use in movies and music have a significant influence on teens’ decisions to start using these substances. Exposure to this content makes teens more likely to use, and to use more. In a 2012 report, the Surgeon General concluded that “there is a causal relationship between depictions of smoking in the movies and the initiation of smoking among young people.” And yet, movie companies continue to depict smoking in G, PG and PG-13 films. The PG movie “Rango,” for example, has animated animal characters that smoke and depicted at least 60 of these animated characters smoking throughout the movie’s 107 minutes.
Would you buy your kids a toy that promotes smoking? Of course not. So why do we look the other way while Hollywood pushes smoking on our kids?
According to a recent report, almost half of PG-13 films feature tobacco imagery. On average, there are 19 tobacco incidents per PG-13 film. The PG-13 rating, according to the Motion Picture Association of America, signifies to parents that the film is appropriate for teens, but “some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.” Yet what we know from the Surgeon General’s report is that seeing smoking in movies is harmful, and therefore inappropriate, for both pre-teens and teens alike.
Parents rely on movie ratings to tell them what content is appropriate for their children. In the case of smoking exposure, the rating system isn’t working.
One solution that might help: movies that depict characters smoking should be rated R. This recommendation, endorsed by the Surgeon General and Legacy, would nearly eliminate images of smoking from PG-13 movies. Researchers have estimated that a required R rating for smoking would reduce youth tobacco use by 18 percent. Considering that more than 3,200 kids under the age of 18 start smoking every day, changing the movie rating regulations could ultimately save millions of children’s lives.
Disney CEO Bob Iger announced that Disney will ban smoking in all of its PG-13 rated future productions, including Marvel, LucasFilm and Pixar films, unless the smoking is historically pertinent to the context of the character or storyline. We need to pressure other studios to follow this good example and stop exposing our children to harm.
Emily Feinstein, JD
Emily Feinstein is Director of Health Law and Policy at CASAColumbia