Tobacco use by children constitutes a
grave health risk. Tobacco use remains the leading cause
of health problems
in the United States, and the vast majority of smokers take
up the habit as teens.
Recent research suggests that viewing
smoking in movies promotes smoking initiation among adolescents.
However, the research
indicates that running anti-smoking messages prior to
films that depict smoking can inoculate young patrons
effects of the smoking scenes in the movies. Given these
facts, I believe it important for theatre operators to
familiarize themselves with the research and consider
the proper reaction
of our industry to these important issues.
For many years, the members of the
National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) have
actively pursued an
to reduce smoking prevalence. Recently, various attorneys
general have turned their attention to the movie industry.
In meetings with the studios, directors, theatre owners
and others, the attorneys general have combined with
and sociological research experts to raise their concerns
about smoking in movies.
In the interest of education and information
sharing, NATO invited NAAG representatives to attend
meeting here in Washington, D.C. Executives from
most leading U.S. movie theatre companies, and many independent
as well, attended the presentation. Maryland attorney
general J. Joseph Curran Jr. and Vermont attorney
urged the NATO membership to consider two requests
(discussed below). They were joined by Dr. Madeline
Dalton of the
Dartmouth Medical School, who presented her research
smoking initiation to exposure to smoking depictions
|Research suggests that teens would respond to anti-smoking
messages before movies that
As they had earlier suggested to the
Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the NAAG
that we change the movie rating system so that
most movies containing
portrayals of smoking would receive an “R” rating.
After reviewing this recommendation with the
appropriate NATO committees, and consulting with
we do not believe that the rating system should
be changed in this
way at this time.
NATO and the MPAA designed the movie
rating system to reflect the opinions of America’s parents. Indeed, the primary
criterion for service on the ratings board is parental experience.
More important, though, the members of the ratings board
are instructed to follow one principle above all others – rate
movies the way most American parents would want
them rated. While parents have asked us to take
things like violence,
sex and language into account while rating movies,
there has never been a groundswell of parents
asking us to rate
movies based on the depiction of smoking. Moreover,
important issues of creative freedom and free
speech are at stake.
I do not believe that we should tell the movie
writers, directors, producers and actors that
any smoking incident
in a restrictive rating.
Nonetheless, it is possible and appropriate
to consider smoking incidence as one factor in ratings
officials at the Classification and Ratings
(CARA) report that the ratings board does indeed
include youth smoking scenes in their deliberations.
reminded me that teen smoking has been mentioned
in the ratings descriptors
for some movies.
I also note that the rating system
is very dynamic. It evolves over time, as the attitudes
parents evolve. We will continue to consider the recommendation
of the attorneys
general in light of parental attitudes.
As their second recommendation, the attorneys
general suggested that theatre operators
before movies that contain smoking. Research
presented at the board meeting suggested
that teens would
respond to such
NATO does not set policies for its
members regarding the material they exhibit. Given
of federal and
state antitrust laws, a voluntary trade
association like NATO cannot involve itself directly
in the business and
trade practices of our members. Nonetheless,
we can share information
with you. In this light, NATO has posted some of the leading research on the topic
in movies, and the potential effects of
anti-smoking messages on the members-only section of
Website. I invite our
members to examine this important research.
Also, I am delighted to report that
paid public service campaigns are underway in
regions – New
York, Ohio and the District of Columbia.
Beginning in April of this year, the
New York State Department of Health made
a fairly comprehensive buy through screen
in that state. In September, the American
Legacy Foundation began a paid series
of spots in Washington, D.C. Likewise,
Ohio state agencies have scheduled anti-smoking
theatres in that state beginning in November.
NATO members who have aired these messages
report no negative reaction
NATO will continue to work with the
NAAG, and other interested organizations, to
members regarding the issue of smoking