WHO Report Blames Movies for Hooking Kids on Cigarettes, Urges Action

Does smoking deserve an R-rating?

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Still think smoking is cool? Well, the World Health Organization (WHO) doesn’t.

The international agency released a report on Monday criticizing movies that depict smoking for getting young people hooked on cigarettes. It also outlined a series of steps governments can take that balance the health of their children with the need to maintain free artistic expression in the cinema.

As many as one third of youth who start to smoke do so as a result of exposure to smoking in films, resulting in 6 million new young smokers in the United States in 2014, 2 million of whom will go on to die from smoking-related illnesses, according to the studies cited.

The new report is actually the third in a series that began in 2009 called “Smoke-free movies: from evidence to action.”

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

Perhaps the widest reaching policy suggestion from WHO would be to have movies with smoking automatically bumped up to an R-rating. The recommendation builds on a 2014 United States Surgeon General’s report that determined that nixing smoking from PG-13 movies could cut youth smoking rates by up to 18 percent, possibly saving up to a million American lives down the road.

Youth-rated films actually caused more than half of all tobacco impressions. In the United States alone, youth-rated films (PG-13 and below) with depictions of tobacco use caused 10.8 billion impressions on moviegoers, according to the Center for Disease Control, about 56 percent of total tobacco impressions. Youth-rated films often reach the top of the charts at the box office, resulting in wide viewerships, including many young people.

The WHO report suggests a tobacco warning and anti-smoking advertisement run before movies featuring smoking.

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The WHO report also suggests movies with smoking should receive a unique “tobacco warning” in addition to the general rating. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) officially provides a “smoking label” but in reality requires it for only one out of ten movies with a tobacco presence. WHO would also like to see anti-tobacco advertisements run before movies with smoking.

Tobacco advertising on television is long a thing of the past in the United States, but movies still accept cash from cigarette companies to push a certain pack into the hands of the on-screen hero. WHO wants countries to ban tobacco labels from movies and require filmmakers to certify in the credits that they received “nothing of value” related to any on-screen tobacco use.

Some of these measures might reduce how often kids see smoking in movies, but they definitely won’t change how kids feel about smoking. As long as angsty independents are putting a pack in the shirt pocket of every greasy, grouchy city wanderer, kids are going to keep thinking cigarettes are cool.

Maybe instead of spending all that money writing reports and lobbying for changes, fork some cash over to Disney. How much could it cost to get Kylo Ren lighting up between battles in the next Star Wars? Adam Driver just doesn’t give off the cool vibe.

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