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Review board should ban smoking in movies for children and teens–review-board-should-ban-smoking-in-movies-for-children-and-teens

Every year, the Toronto International Film Festival, one of the most renowned film festivals in the world, comes to that city. For a couple of weeks, Toronto is transformed into a celebration of some of the best in upcoming films. Yet there is one aspect of current movies that should not be celebrated: the high level of smoking and tobacco use that continues to appear in children and teen-rated movies in Ontario (G, PG, 14A).

Smoking in youth-rated movies is a serious public health issue. A significant body of research is in agreement that the more that youth see smoking in films, the more likely they are to start smoking.

One of the reasons tobacco’s portrayal in film is so deadly is that it typically fails to reflect reality. It is often glamourized by actors and actresses and rarely are the serious health consequences ever shown. A simple solution to this problem exists: Ensure all future movies rated for children and teens in Ontario are tobacco-free.

To be clear, no one is suggesting re-rating movies already produced.

Within Canada, the tobacco industry is restricted from advertising or promoting its products in most media, yet millions of tobacco impressions continue to be delivered to children and teens through movies annually. In 2011, 85 per cent of movies featuring tobacco were assigned a child or teen rating (G, PG, 14A) by the Ontario Film Review Board (OFRB). This resulted in the delivery of 509 million impressions to children and teens through theatre viewings alone. When you consider the amount of blu-ray and DVD movies children and teens watch, this number is even larger.

The OFRB has the power to make youth-rated movies in Ontario smoke-free, but they have opted not to. The OFRB is responsible for rating movies in Ontario based on a variety of criteria, such as violence, substance abuse and nudity among others, but smoking and tobacco use currently have no impact on a movie’s rating.

As a result, the animated feature Rango was rated PG in Ontario even though more than 50 instances of tobacco use and imagery were included.

The OFRB’s response to this issue has been to include a tobacco use advisory within the movie’s description, which is insufficient and unlikely to prevent youth smoking initiation.

We should be asking ourselves if we are being adequately served through this OFRB tobacco content advisory. Will it help make a more informed choice? Perhaps, but do you want to constantly be scrutinizing every film your children watch to ensure they aren’t being negatively influenced by smoking? Doesn’t it make more sense to simply exclude tobacco from youth-rated movies in the first place?

At the end of the day, what value is there in allowing it? Would anyone really miss it? Did anyone miss it in The Avengers? Did it hurt movie sales or audience enjoyment? This is doubtful, based on the film’s ticket sales.

The evidence-based global policy consensus supports an adult rating (18A in Ontario) for movies with smoking and tobacco use. The World Health Organization, the U.S. Surgeon General, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Public Health Ontario’s Smoke-Free Ontario Scientific Advisory Committee and Ontario’s Tobacco Strategy Advisory Group all call for action to reduce onscreen smoking.

The only instances where smoking and tobacco should ever be allowed in a youth-rated movie is when the character being portrayed smoked or used tobacco in real life or when a movie explicitly shows the harmful health consequences of tobacco. All other forms are gratuitous and damaging to public health.

It is time to stop allowing the recruitment of a new generation of smokers through tobacco use in children and teen rated movies (G, PG, 14A). By ensuring all future movies rated for children and teens in the province are tobacco-free, we could help reduce youth smoking initiation and prevent some of the 13,000 lives lost annually in Ontario due to tobacco-related death and disease.

Lorraine Fry and Andrea Kita, are cochairs, Ontario Coalition for Smoke-Free Movies.

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