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Celluloid cigarettes

Humor: Hollywood's puffed-up attempt to warn kids about smoking in movies.

By Frank Kosa / May 18, 2007



NEWSFLASH: The Motion Picture Association of America, the Hollywood ratings watchdog, has leaped into the cigarette smoking fray. Just 41 years after the federal government mandated that warnings be put on cigarette packages, the MPAA has taken the courageous step of realizing that smoking may be possibly, somewhat unhealthy. When a movie comes in for a rating and actors light up on screen, the MPAA is taking the draconian measure of ... "taking that into account."

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Pretty tough language from Hollywood's top Chihuahua. But they went further than that. MPAA chief executive Dan Glickman indicated that "no parent wants their child to take up the habit," a statement he made possibly, or possibly not, after returning from the road to Damascus.

What's not known is that the rough-and-tumble self-regulating industry is considering even more changes. I know, hard to believe that there is more to do – after taking smoking into account, one might expect a 10- or 20-year hiatus. But according to sources so moral that they were almost willing to go on the record, here's what may be coming next:

Kids' movies that have smoking in them will get a special rating – G+.

"The 'plus' warning is a negative," says a source close to the MPAA, "no matter what you might associate with, say, a report card or its use anywhere else." He adds that the tobacco industry generously helped come up with the new label.

Although teen films that feature smoking will earn the tougher rating, exceptions can be made if the smokers are not actually children. The issue reportedly arose in the re-remake of "Charlotte's Web," where the script called for Charlotte to light up while contemplating what she is going to write in her web.

"First, Charlotte is clearly not a minor," says the almost-on-the-record source. "Second, writers often smoke while thinking. Then, too, Charlotte is a morally ambivalent character: It's not as though the script is calling for a stogie in Wilbur's lips."

Profanity ratings are also up for reconsideration. Use of "nappy-headed," for instance, may be considered improper for the under-10 crowd. MPAA is, however, considering a one-time waiver for the upcoming holiday release, "Treasury of Don Imus's Christmas Stories."

The "N" word is also facing restriction in children's movies, unless the male lead is a rapper. This will allow a G-rating for Ice Cube's summer release, "Can We Say It Yet?"

But fear not family-fare fans: Some things will not change. Nudity and any whiff of sexuality will earn an immediate R, unless being used to sell clothes, music, or products by Britney Spears.

Nor will any amount of national obesity affect on-screen close-ups of Doublewhoppers with extra cheese. A children's adaptation of the documentary exposé "Super Size Me" is proceeding as planned. "We've already signed Eddie Murphy," says a disgruntled studio assistant who asked not to be named on the advice of his publicity agent. "Fat is phat."

Above all, gunplay, assault weaponry, and murders will not be limited on the big screen in any way. "We can't deny preschoolers their Second Amendment rights," says the source. "Besides, we have to be able to compete with TV."

The official did stress that all changes are merely under consideration. "But one thing we can say for sure," he adds. "The [possible partial] ban on smoking in kids' films is proof, once again, that self-regulation truly works!"

• Frank Kosa is a documentary filmmaker in Santa Monica, Calif.

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