Strong Words at Anti-Tobacco Hearing

WASHINGTON, D.C. Advocates called on Hollywood to limit the depiction of smoking in movies at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Tuesday, arguing that films with smoking scenes should be given an “R” rating the same way movies featuring foul language are rated.

In making his point, Stan Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California and tobacco critic, used profanity in his testimony, prompting a rebuke from Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., who had asked for the hearing.

“When are we going to treat smoking as seriously as we treat the word fuck,” Glantz said. “If you use the F-word once in a sexual context [in a movie], you get an ‘R’ rating.”

Glantz later apologized, but said he did it “quite deliberately,” explaining: “The use of the word will get you an ‘R’ rating, but it doesn’t kill anyone.”

Under the terms of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement with 46 states, the tobacco industry agreed to refrain from product placement in movies and TV shows. A group of 25 attorneys general have been pressing the Motion Picture Assocation of America, the National Association of Theatre Owners and the various guilds representing directors, writers and actors to reduce the depiction of smoking in movies [Adweek, May 3].

Meanwhile, the attorneys general of 29 states sent a letter to Brown & Williamson on May 7, warning the tobacco company to stop its radio campaign for Kool cigarettes that features hip-hop music because it is marketing cigarettes to children. In the letter, the attorneys general called on the company to pull all promotions and ads for the campaign and to refrain from similar promotions in the future. Under the terms of the MSA, the states must give tobacco companies a one-month notice before filing a lawsuit to enforce the settlement agreement.

Calls for limiting smoking in movies and informing parents through the rating system when movies do display the practice have grown louder following a Dartmouth Medical School study showing that the appearance of smoking in films has increased. The issue also has bipartisan support in the Senate.

While Ensign said he did not support an “R” rating for smoking in movies, he said he would like a tobacco rating in the current rating system. He also said he wants to see anti-smoking public service announcements in trailers before movies that depict the practice.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., went further, warning that if the movie industry did not take voluntary action, it would likely face legislation. “If something isn’t done by the industry, something will be done by Congress,” Wyden said.

Jack Valenti, president of the MPAA, testified that he was reluctant to include a smoking rating because it would leave the rating system vulnerable to other societal ills such as alcohol abuse, homicides committed with guns and even obesity. “I can’t tell you how many people want to be recognized in the rating system,” Valenti said. “We want to make sure the rating system is not cluttered up with all these other interests.”