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Why Hollywood movies with smoking scenes need an R rating

A report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds Hollywood has cut its depictions of smoking by half from 2005 -- which helps explain why the percent of teens trying cigarettes also went down during the same period.

By Clayton Jones / August 23, 2010

James Cameron, director of the movie Avatar, was criticized for having the character played by Sigorney Weaver smoking during many scenes.

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Hollywood is quite willing to depict reality in movies but it’s unwilling to admit that its depictions of smoking onscreen can create a reality: a rise in teenage addiction to nicotine.

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That point, already well proven by studies, was reinforced last week by the federal government. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report about trends in film depiction of tobacco use and concluded with this: “Effective methods to reduce the potential harmful influence of onscreen tobacco use should be implemented.”

Specifically, the federal agency wants R ratings put on films with tobacco imagery, which would ban teens under 17 from seeing such movies.

The effect could be immediate. The national Youth Risk Behavior Survey found a marked decline in high school students trying a cigarette from 2005 to 2009 – during the very same period that the number of tobacco incidents depicted in top-grossing movies also declined by nearly half, according to the CDC report.

Each day, about 4,000 teenagers in the US from ages 12 to 17 try their first cigarette, many after seeing movie actors light up.

The Motion Picture Association of America responded to the CDC study by noting the progress it has already made, citing a statistic that three-quarters of movies that depicted smoking since May 2007 were R rated.

Still, that means about one-quarter of such films could be seen by teens or even younger. With the evidence so clear that Hollywood is guilty of encouraging an addiction with such harm, why does its still not impose an R rating for all movies with tobacco use?

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