Is a Cigarette Worthy of an “R” Rating?

Smoke Free Movies/Courtesy

While entering my “Drugs and the Brain,” class today, the last thing I expected was to leave Wheeler auditorium battling through a heated inner dialogue about film ratings and evolution in censorship. Leave it to Professor Presti to connect my academic nemesis —science — with my passion for film analysis. At the end of a lecture on the dangers of smoking tobacco, the class’s attention was brought to, an informational website promoting UCSF’s movement to assign any film that portrays the use of tobacco an “R” rating. The site explicitly states its reasoning behind this action with this shocking statistic: “An R-rating for smoking will cut kids’ exposure to smoking in movies by at least half, preventing almost 200,000 adolescents from starting to smoke every year and averting 50-60,000 tobacco deaths a year in coming decades.”


My initial reaction to this idea was shock: isn’t it a bit extreme to give an R-rating to something so common? Would it really be worth it to censor films more heavily than they already are, to hide something that I see at least once on a daily basis? Is this censor a way to shy away from the tragic truth that smoking tobacco kills about 450,000 people in America per year? (That’s right, I paid attention in class today!) Further down in my line of reasoning, it became more and more clear that this actually seems like a pretty revolutionary idea. The media has such a strong influence on our conscious and subconscious perceptions of what is accepted in society, so why not use the film industry to provide healthier examples and role models for PG-13/under audiences? Frankly, if inappropriate language or too much sexual content call for an “R” rating, why not censor something that is actually lethal? While I am in no way a fan of harsh artistic censorship, I believe this to be a compelling topic and a potential example of how changing the film industry really can have an effect on our world. Maybe in a couple of decades this change could make the aforementioned difference, and spotting a tobacco smoker will not longer be a commonplace occurrence, but rather an infrequent incident.

Contact Anna Horrocks at [email protected]

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  • Sam

    Sure. The problem is that this ignores context–if The Weinstein Company comes out with some Oscar-bait schlock about a guy dying lung cancer, is it the same as a Quentin Tarantino movie with a chain-smoking protagonist? The MPAA needs a more holistic approach in general, not one where certain boxes getting checked off a list is sufficient to earn a movie this or that rating.

    (Small point, and not really a criticism, but I have yet to see an article that actually names a recent PG-13 movie that depicts smoking with, as the study’s author suggests, a “cool factor.” Maybe I’m just not seeing the same movies as these kids, but this seems like such a middle-school health class insight into the ways people can actually be ideologically influenced by the media.)

    I’ve also got some skepticism about their methodology, but I don’t want to write a comment that’s longer than the original article.

    (Seriously: a basic understanding of the MPAA’s current role in the industry would suggest that it would be a REALLY BAD IDEA to expand its ratings board members’ positions as unaccountable moral gatekeepers.)

  • joepublic

    Wow! A freedom-loving academic calling for more censorship, what a shocker!

    • Guest

      Yep, suck on that ciggie, friend. You ain’t gonna let no pointy-headed fool tell YOU what to do ‘cuz, like Herman Cain’s advisor, you love them ‘merican values.

      Spare us your junkie outrage. Smoking propaganda isn’t called freedom, it’s called slavery to Big Tobacco.

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