In the United States and elsewhere, a growing number of medical and public health agencies are calling for movies with smoking scenes to be adult rated. They believe that such ratings would significantly reduce the exposure of youth to smoking scenes in movies, which they argue directly cause the uptake of smoking. An essay published in PLoS Medicine presents four arguments against such proposals.

Argument 1: Studies purporting to demonstrate a link between exposure to smoking in movies and smoking uptake do not control for the possible influence of other factors such as alcohol or recreational drug portrayal, violence, coarse language and sexual content, and their relationship with subsequent smoking.

Argument 2: Claims for attributable uptake of smoking said to be caused by movie smoking exposure are crudely reductionist, ignoring widespread exposure to smoking scenes elsewhere.

Argument 3: Adult classification is a highly inefficient way of preventing youth exposure to adult-rated content because kids find ways to access this content anyway, especially via the internet.

Argument 4: There are concerns about the assumption that advocates for any cause should feel it reasonable that the state should regulate (censor) cultural products like movies, books, art and theater in the service of their issue.

The authors of the essay, Simon Chapman and Matthew C. Farrelly, point out that “efforts should be applauded to expose and outlaw paid tobacco industry product placement in film—which is unarguably a form of advertising—as well as efforts to raise awareness within the film and television industries about the ways that gratuitous depiction of smoking can assist in normalizing smoking.”

1. Chapman S, Farrelly MC. Four arguments against the adult-rating of movies with smoking scenes. PLoS Medicine 2011; 8(8): e1001078. (open access)