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Smoking in movies leads to youth smoking, says U.S. Surgeon General

SIMCOE, ON, MARCH 23, 2012 – Actors lighting up on the big screen now ranks alongside peer smoking and tobacco marketing as a major factor that influences a young person’s decision of whether or not to smoke.

The impact of smoking in youth-rated films is outlined in the recently released U.S. Surgeon General’s report Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults. The reports states that there is now enough evidence to conclude that there is a causal relationship between depictions of smoking in movies and the initiation of smoking among young people.

“Tobacco use, especially by young people, is a serious public health issue both locally and nationally,” said Josh Daley, Health Promoter with the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit. “The Surgeon General’s report confirms that exposure to smoking in movies is responsible for a sizable portion of the smoking rate.”

The most recent data for Haldimand and Norfolk reveals that 24.7 per cent of local youth smoke daily or occasionally. In the U.S. report, the Surgeon General refers to the problem as a “pediatric epidemic,” with more than 80 per cent of smokers beginning by age 18, and 99 per cent of adult smokers in the U.S. starting by age 26.

Reducing the exposure of kids to smoking in films is one prevention method that would help bring the smoking rates down. Research shows that the more youth see smoking in movies, the more likely they are to start, even kids from non-smoking families.

The Health Unit, along with other municipal, provincial, national and international agencies including the World Health Organization, Canadian Cancer Society, Heart & Stroke Foundation, would like to see all new movies that are rated G, PG or 14A be smoke-free

“Smoking is not considered when new movies are rated, but it should be,” noted Daley.
The OFRB considers coarse language, nudity, violence and sexual content when assigning ratings to movies, but not tobacco. As a result, 85 per cent of the top movies in 2011 that contained tobacco were rated G, PG, or 14A.

“With all of the research showing the impact of exposure to on-screen smoking, combined with the fact that tobacco use remains the leading cause of premature death and disease in Ontario, we think smoking deserves a spot on the OFRB’s criteria list,” added Daley.
While some have argued that restricting smoking in youth-rated movies is a form of censorship, or limits youth’s choices of movies, Daley points out that the decision of whether or not to include tobacco is no different than a number of other factors producers consider when making a movie.
“Movie producers would simply eliminate the smoking from movies targeted at youth to receive a lower rating and retain the young viewers, just like they currently do with sex, violence, and profanity,” explained Daley. “If producers feel that smoking is necessary for the integrity or plot of the movie, they would still be able to include it, but would then be choosing an 18A rating and risk a smaller box office return.”

Ontarians are behind this objective as well, as a recent Ipsos Reid poll revealed that 73% of adults in Ontario support this policy change.

The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit and other public health organizations across the province are working to raise awareness of this issue among local parents and teens through the Hooked by Hollywood campaign.

The tobacco status of each week’s new releases are available on the Hooked by Hollywood’s Facebook page, and Twitter users can join in by following @HookedHollywood. Community events, movie nights and an online petition at www.smokefreemovies.ca are also being used to educate parents and teens, and gather support for a change in Ontario’s movie rating system.

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Media contact:
Josh Daley
Health Promoter – Healthy Environment Team
Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
Ext. 3256 at either 519.426.6170 or 905.318.6623
[email protected]