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Smoking in movies to affect ratings

"The Motion Picture Assn. of America announced Thursday that smoking in a film will be a factor in future movie ratings."

[Anti-smoking organization] American Legacy Foundation said the new MPAA ratings policy "falls short and fails to implement the meaningful recommendations set forth by numerous organizations."  Washington-based ALF states its mission as being "dedicated to a world where young people reject tobacco and anyone can quit."-- Reuters, May 11, 2007
Before we begin our critique...  Our statement to ALF: "You first."

ALF cannot bring itself to reject or "quit" tobacco.   This organization is dependent upon the tobacco companies that were compelled to create and fund (with smokers' money through a cigarette price increase) a foundation as a provision of the Master Settlement Agreement signed in 1998.

Without tobacco money they cease to exist.  And they need and want more -- employing any underhanded tactic to get it.   If one were to accept tobacco addiction then they are equally guilty.

As far as everything else goes for this issue, it's nothing more than one more of the manufactured charades by Big Anti-Smoking in their crusade toward a "smoke-free society" and we have the debunking to prove it.

Points to consider, including the media:

1.  This is censorship.  One kind of special interest group, intolerant of a lifestyle choice and behavior, seeks to stifle artistic freedom.  Smoking and cigarettes are legal.

2.  A question posed to the media:  How would you like it if someone dictated to you what lawful behavior you can and cannot show on your show or write about in your articles and columns?

3.  For the last fifteen years at least you can't turn around without seeing or hearing a 'Don't Smoke' message.  Kids are hammered with it week in and week out at school.  Does some viewing of smoking in movies undo ALL that??!!  Then it must be that the anti-smoking campaign is a failure if it can't compete with the watching of some on-screen smoking.

4.  Twenty-five percent of the population engages in this habit.  Professional anti-smokers like Stanton Glantz (originator of the "smoke-free movies" campaign) get away with citing the number of movies where smoking occurs while the truth is that if the movies were to reflect everyday life then one out of every four characters in EACH movie should be smoking.  That's hardly the case yet they make it sound like whatever smoking is taking place is out of the norm.

"Smoke-free movies" Studies Debunked:

(A)  "Effect of Viewing Smoking in Movies on Adolescent Smoking Initiation: a cohort study." Sargent, James D. et al, The Lancet, June 10, 2003

This study, created to embark on this agenda, is riddled with holes.

The study says:

"We assessed exposure to smoking shown in movies in 3547 adolescents, aged 10–14 years...

"We assessed lifetime smoking experience at baseline and follow-up by asking "How many cigarettes have you smoked in your life?", to which respondents could answer "none", "just a few puffs", "one to 19 cigarettes", "20 to 100 cigarettes", or "more than 100 cigarettes".

Only students who answered "none" at baseline were eligible for follow-up. That is, students who reported any cigarette smoking (just a few puffs, one to 100 cigarettes, more than 100 cigarettes) on the follow-up survey were classified as having initiated smoking during the follow-up period."

Only 10% [of the final number of participants] (259 of 2603) initiated smoking during the follow-up period.

Most (80%, n=two hundred and eight) of those who initiated smoking reported that they had smoked "just a few puffs" of a cigarette.

Only 2% (SIX TOTAL!!) of those who initiated smoking had smoked more than 100 cigarettes during follow-up.

And get this... the survey included asking these kids about 50 random movies -- 45% of them that had "R" ratings to begin with. 10 to 14 year olds watching "R" movies to begin with????

The study authors follow up with this:

"However, because almost all R-rated movies contain smoking we could not separate the effects of an R-rating and smoking content. Consequently, we cannot exclude the possibility that some other aspect of R-rated movies influences smoking initiation. However, more than 40 years of research shows that observers imitate specific behaviours they see modelled. Thus, our inference that adolescents imitate smoking behaviour seen in movies seems reasonable. The generalisability of our findings might be restricted because our sample included a mainly white, rural population."

Their "inference"??  "Seems reasonable"??

To Repeat:

Six (6!) kids who'd seen somebody smoke in a movie, eventually reported some sort of sustained smoking (smoking more than 100 cigarettes as opposed to 80% who reported taking “just a few puffs”).

(B) "R-Rated Movies, Bedroom Televisions, and Initiation of Smoking by White and Black Adolescents." University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (Jackson et al),  Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med.2007; 161: 260-268, March 2007

My response to a ACSH Commentary on this study:

I have a hard time understanding why this is only parenthetical when it appears to actually be THE negating factor of the entire hypothesis:

"(Interestingly, and for no obvious reason, black teens did not have that same increased rate of smoking based upon R-rated movie viewing.)"

Or as Dr. Sargent, the researcher of the previous study, is reported as saying in the March 6th LA Times article: "Perhaps black teens, with their higher rates of movie and TV watching, become desensitized to the images of smoking."  Of note too then is that in Sargent's 2003 study it said their results could be limited (the outcome could have been higher) because the sample was mainly white! ("The generalisability of our findings might be restricted because our sample included a mainly white, rural population." - Lancet, 2003, pg. 4).  Well, if one were to accept the latest study then Sargent's expectations of a higher outcome in his study gets dashed.  (See Footnote 1 below for latest study author's own scathing words on this).

The 2003 Lancet study's interpretation read: "Our results provide strong evidence that VIEWING smoking in movies promotes smoking initiation among adolescents." (emphasis mine).

"Viewing."  Not viewing WHO was doing the smoking (as explained as a possibility in this study: "One possibility cited in the study was that black teens don't identify with most characters they see on-screen because they are white"). Not NUMBER of times viewed.  Just the act of seeing smoking depicted as a "normal" behavior.

The fact that there are large differences between black and white youth this time knocks the underlying premise of the "smokefree movies" crowd flat on its back.  The nail in that coffin is the "desensitization" explanation.  It's stunning in its contradiction to the original premise that "Adolescents who viewed the most smoking in movies were almost three times more likely to initiate smoking than those with the least amount of exposure" (Lancet 2003).  Allegedly, the more smoking viewed the more that it was acceptable was reinforced.  Now not?

The opinion that this this latest study is analogous with the former (which, upon close inspection, was weak itself) seems like a real stretch.  Rather, it sinks the first.

(1) In our analyses, only the results for white adolescents were consistent with past research on movie exposure and smoking. Although we, like Sargent et al,26 found that more black than white adolescents were in the highest level of R-rated–movie exposure (42% vs 23%, respectively), this exposure had no significant association with their likelihood of smoking. These results diverge strongly from those of Sargent et al,26 who, based on their national study, concluded that "all US adolescents, regardless of race or place of residence, have a higher risk of smoking initiation as their exposure to movie smoking increases." Moreover, because minority youth were exposed to significantly more movie smoking than white adolescents, Sargent et al26 also concluded that "the population impact of the exposure may be even higher for these minority groups." Our results clearly support an opposite conclusion. (Jackson et al, pdf Pg. 8)

This latest study continues!:  "The association between PG-13 movies and smoking was nonsignificant after adjustment (P=.46)."

Remember now, the antis' are demanding R ratings for any movie showing smoking and yet in this study the kids are watching R-rated movies but they're passing it off as if it's PG-13 movies to blame!

And then get this doozy of a stake in their heart!:

"Although the results show clearly that white adolescents who watch R-rated movies and have televisions in their bedrooms are significantly more likely to smoke, we cannot explain why these associations occur. Indeed, the fact that our television-use variables—which did not specifically indicate variation in exposure to smoking portrayals—predicted smoking behavior in essentially the same manner as R-rated–movie exposure raises questions about whether it is media content per se that accounts for the observed association with smoking. It is possible that as yet unidentified antecedents account for both adolescent media use and adolescent smoking behavior. For example, early problem behaviors, unsafe neighborhood environments, or other risk factors for substance use could affect patterns of media use and likelihood of smoking during adolescence."

There is another method to their (the antis') madness regarding the demand for "R" ratings on movies with smoking.

"PG" movies bring in all that family cash that "R" movies do not. By forcing a "R" rating on what would have normally been a "PG" movie they are squeezing the Motion Picture Association by their financial throats.

I don't assert this as mere opinion.  It comes from Glantz, leader of "Smoke-Free Movies," himself:

"An adult content or R rating for smoking in movies would not have much effect on the movies that children see because, unlike sex and violence (the primary other reasons, along with offensive language, that films are rated for adult content), smoking in movies does not sell movie tickets.  Studios would simply stop putting smoking in movies aimed at an adolescent market."
- Stanton Glantz. "Smoking in Movies: a major problem and a real solution." Commentary, The Lancet, June 10, 2003

The anti-smokers' goal is to coerce the MPAA into making a "decision" in the face of "mounting pressure": Remove smoking from movies in order to maintain the number of money-producing "PG" films.

In their plan, this is how they'll get smoking out of many more movies because they sure as hell can't "solve" this one with legislation.

Clever little censors, aren't they.

Lastly, no poll of the people on a free speech issue should be taken without also asking a question about free speech as part of the survey.  Also, the poll only reflects parents feeling this way because they've been told to feel this way (a product of the anti-smokers' own message).  It's not an original thought.  Nonetheless, this is not a question to be left up to the public.  Free speech (showing a legal behavior with a legal product no less) is constitutionally guaranteed and NO "majority" should have any influence to squelch it.