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Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Smoking at the Movies – an Academy and Canadian disgrace.

Most of the big winning movies at this years Academy awards have significant images of tobacco smoking. A long standing debate, the analysis of the relative impact to tobacco at the cinema has become more sophisticated and demonstrates concerning trends.   81% of movies rated R in the US  have smoking imagery, 66% of PG-13,   and 27% of G or PG  movies.   This amongst an analysis of 1300 feature movies that accounted for over 95% of ticket sales in the US from 2002-2010.

A WHO report looks carefully at the issue Smoke free movies - WHO   and makes some very specific and targeted recommendations.   Internationally, there are countries that have taken up the challenge.  Nigeria and China are the leaders and have taken action to preclude smoking in domestic productions.   Other countries are taken aim at the industry, but the main tool available without US leadership is the ratings classification system. 

Did you realize in Canada, that 60% of the files rated “R” in the United States are considered acceptable for adolescent reviewing?   The number increases to 83% in the UK.   Recall that smoking imagery based on classification is on the basis of US classifications, hence Canadian adolescent tobacco image views that could reinforce smoking behaviours are much higher than peers to the south. 

The Canadian experience is detailed in a report by Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada Smoking in American Movies, the Canadian Impact.  The report makes a claim of up to one-third of youth tobacco use can be attributed to exposure in movies, this corresponding to 43,000 premature deaths from tobacco in the future for today’s adolescents.  There may be some questions about the evidence supporting this attributable fraction, but it does attract attention to the issue.   The document provides a good overview of the Canadian film industry rating diversity and comparison to the US ratings as well as Canada's contributions as Hollywood North. 

Governments have been  attracted to the gloss of the movie industry as a form of monetary stimulus in conjunction with business development and tourism support.  Given the level of government support through a variety of measures including tax credits, one should think that there is a public good ability to impact both the use of tobacco and the subsequent viewing by youth of movies containing smoking.   Most of the business development work is done at a provincial level, and competition between provinces is fierce. The policy wonks would shun the thought of imposing a criteria that might be perceived as reducing the competitive edge to attract films, hence national harmonization and a common front would required.  Not likely to happen under the current leadership.  

The Canadian track record on promotion of the arts is legendary and to be commended.   In film alone, Canadians won the first three Leading Actress Oscars (Mary Pickford, Norma Shearer, Marie Dressler).  The National Film Board has received 72 Academy Award nominations and taken the Oscar 12 times. There are numerous Canadian Oscars in just about every category.   Check out a 2004 list by the CBC of Canadian winners Canada at the Oscars  .  Christopher Plummer’s 2012 award as the best supporting actor is the latest in this long list of outstanding Canadian achievements in film.

With such a marvellous track record, are we not capable of initiating some reform that links art and health, without jeers of compromising artistic freedoms from those that do not have to live or die with the consequences?  Perhaps some of the more recent award winners would likely have greater impact than the health advocates have.  

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