The impact of movie sex and violence on kids may be up for debate, but with smoking, the science is solid. Teens who see a lot of it are more likely to take up the habit than those who don’t. UCSF Dr. Stanton Glantz wants the MPAA to take smoking as seriously as it takes cursing.
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BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On The Media. I’m Brooke Gladstone. BOB GARFIELD: And I’m Bob Garfield. Humphrey Bogart, Myrna Loy, Clint Eastwood, Edward G. Robinson, Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn –– what do all these people have in common? Here’s what: they’re corrupters of youth.
According to a coalition of scientists and public health experts, smoking in the movies, such as these stars have all done, lures young people into the deadly habit and should therefore be discouraged by any means, and they think they have the means, a proposal to give R ratings to films that depict smoking in anything but in utterly negative or demonstrable historical way.
Stanton Glantz is a professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco and a member of the ad hoc coalition called Screen Out. He joins us now. Stan, welcome to the show. PROFESSOR GLANTZ: Thank you. BOB GARFIELD: First, please make the case to me that there is in fact a connection between cigarette smoking on screen and how young people behave. PROFESSOR GLANTZ: There’s about 100 scientific studies of the effect on smoking in the movies on kids, and what all this evidence says when you put it together is that kids who see a lot of smoking in the movies are about three times more likely to actually start smoking than kids that don’t see a lot of smoking in the movies.
This is what epidemiologists call a dose response relationship. It’s pretty much, the more smoking in the movies kids see, the more likely they are to smoke, and you can estimate that about 390,000 kids a year start smoking because of the movies. It’s probably the largest single effect promoting smoking among kids today. BOB GARFIELD: And your group is suggesting a four-part solution. PROFESSOR GLANTZ: One is that new movies with smoking in them get an R rating. We think that the simple action of treating smoking in the movies the same way that Hollywood treats abuse of language would prevent about 200,000 kids a year from starting to smoke.
The second thing we’d like to see is an anti-smoking ad shown before any movie or on any DVD with any movie that has smoking in it, because there’s evidence that that ad actually tends to neutralize the pro-smoking effect in the movies, without affecting whether or not kids would recommend the movie to their friends.
The third thing is an end to all brand identification. There’s really no need for it. One of the directors that I’ve talked to said that there’s actually a person who sits next to him when they’re making a film, who’s in charge of clearances, and he’s told not to put any branded merchandise in the film without either a release or a product placement deal.
Cigarettes are the only thing where the insurance companies don’t require either a release or a product placement deal. And the tobacco companies get out there and they’re just shocked—shocked—that their brands [BOB LAUGHS] are being displayed in these movies so prominently.
And Philip Morris is now even running ads in the trade press, urging Hollywood not to display its brands. But if Philip Morris was serious about keeping their products out of the movies, they would just sue a couple of producers for trademark infringement.
The fourth thing we’re asking for is what I call a certification of no payoffs. You know how at the end of the movies when they have an animal in the movie they have a certification that no animals were harmed in the making of the film? Well, we’d like a certification that nobody got paid off for putting smoking in that movie. BOB GARFIELD: You have provided for a couple of exceptions to the list of rules. One would be for a film which is portraying a historical figure, you know, known to smoke heavily, like Edward R. Murrow in Good Night and Good Luck, or maybe Winston Churchill.
Another, in the spirit of the old Hays Code, which allowed you to show someone committing homicide as long as he got his comeuppance in the end, allows you to show smoking if it also shows the negative health effects. PROFESSOR GLANTZ: Yes, the reason that we included those two exceptions was frankly I got tired about hearing about Winston Churchill’s cigar. And the fact is that there are very, very few movies, especially the kind of movies that we’re concerned about that are mass-marketed to teenagers where, you know, Winston Churchill stomping around [BOB LAUGHING] chomping a cigar was a big issue.
The exception for actual portrayal of the negative effects of smoking was put in there for similar reasons. We heard objections out of Hollywood, oh, what if we wanted to make a movie showing, you know, that smoking is horrible and kills people and that would deprive us of the opportunity to educate kids, so we said okay.
So these couple of exceptions that we’ve allowed were really put in there to just get rid of a couple of fallacious arguments that were being used against us. BOB GARFIELD: There are all sorts of unhealthy behaviors depicted in PG rated movies, from eating pizza to jumping out of windows on to awnings to fist fights to car chases. I mean, shall we have movies rated R for reckless driving?
PROFESSOR GLANTZ: Well, the thing which makes tobacco use different from these other things that you’re talking about is we have this tremendous science base, and in those other areas that you’re talking about, we just don’t have scientific evidence that car chases are causing 400,000 kids a year to go out and drive recklessly and get killed eventually. BOB GARFIELD: What’s the reaction been from Hollywood? PROFESSOR GLANTZ: For the first couple of years, we were completely ignored by Hollywood and then they were mad and saying all kinds of mean things about us.
But there’s been a couple of areas where there’s been some meaningful progress. The Weinstein Brothers have now started putting anti-smoking ads on their DVDs. That’s something that the Motion Picture Association told me years ago hell would freeze over before that happened. Theaters are now willing to allow state and city health programs to run anti-smoking ads in theaters before movies with smoking in them. That’s something else the Motion Picture Association had told me would never happen. BOB GARFIELD: There’s one more constituency I’m interested in, whether you’ve gotten any feedback from them, and I refer of course to actors [LAUGHS]. It’ll ruin them. I mean, there is so much business that an actor does with a cigarette. It’s such a good visual shorthand for anxiety or seduction, plus it, you know, just gives them something to do with their hands. Have any of them weighed in on this? PROFESSOR GLANTZ: You know, it’s very interesting. There’s just been absolute silence out of Hollywood on this. A couple of them like Sean Penn have very aggressively been opposing what we’ve been doing, claiming that it’s somehow tantamount to putting duct tape over their mouths.
There are actors who won’t smoke. There are actors who have been, you know, quietly trying to do the right thing here, but this whole argument that, you know, smoking is the way to be edgy or sexy or express rebellion are really showing that these actors are brainwashed by cigarette advertising, because there’s nothing sexy about inhaling 6,000 toxic chemicals into your lungs, or polluting the air around you.
Those are really visions of smoking which have been created through cigarette marketing. BOB GARFIELD: I think if you were having a conversation with a director at this point, he would say, you know what, Doctor Glantz, you handle the public health, I’ll do the directing. PROFESSOR GLANTZ: We’re not saying that the directors don’t have the right to put smoking in films if they want to, just like they can use the F word, just like they can show frontal nudity if they want.
It’s just that when they do that, then they get an R rating. BOB GARFIELD: All right, Stan. Thank you very much. PROFESSOR GLANTZ: Thank you for your interest. BOB GARFIELD: Stanton Glantz is a professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco.