By Elissa Denhoed
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. At least at the movies these days.
There’s a lot of pressure right now, from the World Health Organization and from thousands of concerned parents, to give movies that feature smoking an automatic R rating. If you ask me, the suggestion, though well-intended, is a little extreme and unlikely to do much good.
The R rating is supposed to make filmmakers think twice before allowing their stars to smoke onscreen. PG-13 movies (14A in Canada) gross twice as much as R movies, so that means a lot less people would be watching. I’m not a smoker and I don’t necessarily support tobacco use, but I believe in creative freedom. It’s not censorship, because the film industry decides on their own ratings. But it’s a lot of unnecessary pressure on filmmakers. So far, movies with historical figures who smoke and movies that show the dangers of smoking are still left at a reasonable PG rating.
Is showing smoking really so bad? Sure, statistics say that kids who watch smoking in movies are four times more likely to take up the bad habit themselves. But it’s still a personal choice. Nobody’s forcing them into it. Back in the day when a cowboy in a western would puff on a Marlboro, most people didn’t realize the dangers of smoking. Today it’s proclaimed everywhere, even on the cigarette packages. Kids may be immature, but they’re not stupid. They know that smoking is bad for you.
I watched Peter Pan many times as a kid and not once did wanting to smoke cross my mind, even though Captain Hook was my hero at the time. I think Hellboy’s pretty darn cool, but would I take up smoking just so I could be like him? No.
Smoking kills, and that’s a known fact. But it’s legal, and it doesn’t harm anyone else as long as they aren’t standing downwind. Twenty per cent of Canadian teens smoke during high school and college, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation; but Health Canada says Ontario has an impressive overall quit rate of 49 per cent. For those who do form a lifelong addiction, I blame peer pressure – not movies.
Seventy per cent of American adults want to see ratings changed to protect their kids, if an independent national survey done in 2006 is accurate. But they’re forgetting that kids see smokers in real life (increasingly less, but still) every day. Changing movie ratings to “protect” kids is totally redundant. There are more important elements to protect them from that they wouldn’t see every day. You know what those things are.
One last thought: obesity and inactivity, not smoking, is the more pressing health concern for many people today. Sixty per cent of Canadians are overweight or obese, compared to the 25 per cent who smoke. If you want to protect your health, get out of that movie theatre and get some exercise.