WHO Says Movies With Smoking Scenes Should Be Rated

WHO Says Movies With Smoking Scenes Should Be Rated
Photo Credit: 《Fight Club》

What you need to know

WHO is calling on governments around the world to rate movies that show tobacco. The organization confirmed that this means films with smoking scenes should be viewed only by those who are 18 and older. Its aim is to prevent children and adolescents from starting to smoke cigarettes and use other forms of tobacco.

Compiled by Bing-sheng Lee

The World Health Organization (WHO) is calling on governments around the world to rate movies that portray tobacco use in a bid to prevent children and adolescents from starting to smoke cigarettes and use other forms of tobacco.

According to a WHO research report, “Smoke-free Movies: from Evidence to Action,” released on February 1, movies showing use of tobacco products have enticed millions of young people worldwide to start smoking.

Hoping to highlight the issue in the run-up to the Oscars, WHO says that as countries have been committed to cracking down on tobacco advertising and sponsorship over the years, cigarette companies are turning to the film industry to recruit the next generation of smokers.

“With ever tighter restrictions on tobacco advertising, film remains one of the last channels exposing millions of adolescents to smoking imagery without restrictions,” says Douglas Bettcher, WHO’s director for the Department of Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases.

A US study suggests that on-screen smoking accounts for 37% of all new adolescent smokers. In 2014, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that exposure to on-screen smoking would recruit more than six million new and young smokers from among American children in 2014, of which two million would ultimately die from tobacco-induced diseases.

In 2014, smoking was found in 44% of all Hollywood films, and 36% of those rated for young people. 59% of top-grossing films featured tobacco imagery between 2002 and 2014.

The WHO research illustrates the advertising tactic of tobacco companies with the example of “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” which features a cigar-smoking robot.

In 2014, the film delivered a total of 2.6 billion impressions of tobacco use in China. This is calculated by the number of tobacco incidents in a film multiplied by its paid cinema admissions.

It states that taking concrete steps can stop children and adolescents from being introduced to tobacco products and subsequent tobacco-related addiction, disability and death.

The moves the WHO Smoke-Free Movie report recommends include:

1. Requiring age classification ratings for films with tobacco imagery to reduce overall exposure of youth to tobacco imagery in films.
2. Certifying in movie credits that film producers receive nothing of value from anyone in exchange for using or displaying tobacco products in a film.
3. Ending display of tobacco brands in films.
4. Requiring strong anti-smoking advertisements to be shown before films containing tobacco imagery in all distribution channels, including cinemas, televisions and online media.

When referring to adult rating, WHO confirmed that this means only those who are 18 or older can view films with smoking scenes.

Potential exceptions within the proposed measure include older classic films, which wouldn’t need to be re-rated, but may require warnings labels on DVDs and videos.

Other possible exceptions include actual historical figures who smoked, and when smoking is used in a film that clearly identifies the dangerous ramifications of tobacco use. However, the report does not cover e-cigarettes.

Some countries have already taken steps to counter cigarettes in films

Dr. Armando Peruga, program manager of WHO’s Tobacco-Free Initiative, says countries around the world have taken steps to limit tobacco imagery in films.

“China has ordered that excessive smoking scenes should not be shown in films. India has implemented new rules on tobacco imagery and brand display in domestic and imported films and TV programs. But more can and must be done,” Peruga adds.

In 2011, China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television issued a notice, which asked producers to minimize scenes and plot lines involving the use of smoking, with additional strict controlling measures on both film and television.

In India, films and television programs produced before October 2, 2012, run 100 seconds of public service anti-tobacco announcements and on-screen health disclaimers. Health warnings beneath scenes with tobacco use are also shown as per the government’s regulations.

The country also requires film producers to provide acceptable editorial justification for the display of tobacco products or their use in films produced after October 2, 2012.

The WHO research study writes that, ”By mandating that all film and television content that depicts tobacco use, also place warnings about tobacco harms through public service announcements, disclaimers and a static message, the government of India has been able to accrue valuable air time for public health messaging and has been able to raise tobacco control awareness among the masses.”

However, some people believe that the recommended rating censorship on cigarettes should not be taken too far.

Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest, says, “Disney has a no smoking policy for its PG 13-rated (Parents Strongly Cautioned) films, and that’s fine, but films aimed at older audiences must be allowed to reflect real life, not some sanitized smoke-free world.”

He adds, “Penalizing films that portray smoking by giving them a rating equivalent to an 18 certificate is a clumsy and unnecessary attempt at censorship.”

Taiwan government recommends exclusion of tobacco imagery in media programs

Chiou Shu-ti, director-general of Health Promotion Administration (HPA) in Taiwan, said in June 2015 that to create a better tobacco-free media environment for youngsters, the government should reduce the amount of time smoking scenes are shown in videos and movies that children and teenagers often watch.

HPA also recommended that the media exclude cigarettes from their programs. If a scene with smoking is needed, the whole program should be rated at least as Protected category (equivalent to Parental Guidance Suggested in the US) or above.

Edited by Olivia Yang

“Films showing smoking scenes should be rated to protect children from tobacco addiction” (WHO Media Centre)
“Movies depicting smoking should be given ‘adult rating’: WHO” (CNBC)
“Films portraying smoking should get adult rating, says WHO” (The Guardian)
“WHO wants age-wise ratings for films with tobacco imagery” (The Economic Times)
“Films with on-screen smoking should carry warnings to protect children – UN health agency” (UN News Centre)
“WHO wants movies that show smoking scenes to be rated ‘adults only’” (International Business Times)