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Should Smoking Earn a Film an R-Rating?

Huffington Post commentary:

As a filmmaker and -- please note -- non-smoker, I need to say something about the current push to make smoking in films a crime punishable by an R rating.

And that something is: hold on a second. What exactly are we talking about?

Let's start with what's true: Smoking is a terrible thing.
It kills hundreds of thousands of people a year. Young people shouldn't smoke, and seeing smoking in films probably influences millions of them to start. No argument.

The problem is that excess drinking is a terrible thing and also kills millions of people a year. And influences young people. Driving automobiles irresponsibly is a truly terrible thing and kills tens of thousands of people a year and influences young people. Guns are terrible things. Sexual harassment is a terrible thing. Robbery is a terrible thing. War is a terrible thing. Being mean to other children is a terrible thing.

The world is filled with terrible things that can influence children, and movies have depicted them since time immemorial. Should every terrible thing warrant an R-rating?

How much longer before we're all issued a set of mandatory peril-sensitive sunglasses...

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Comments (14)

"Should every terrible thing warrant an R-rating?"

No, but advocating and glamorizing practices that will greatly shorten your life do warrant an "R" rating, just as a film which glamorizes drug or alcohol should warrant an "R" rating (whether drug addicts and alcoholics agree or not).

Smoking is a very serious form of drug addiction where tobacco companies deliberately market a very harmful drug addiction to persons often with a weak personal will or common sense, and I support virtually any reasonable effort to protect the public from the effects of secondhand smoke. How often do you see some pathetic loser hanging around the door of your local grocery store smoking, as persons with asthma or other serious illnesses have to walk through a cloud of smoke to buy life-saving inhalers or other expensive supplies from the store pharmacy and store security does nothing to protect paying customers.

My own mother who has never smoked in her life, but now suffers from serious breathing problems due to secondhand smoke at her workplace lunchroom, including emphysema, and now has to pay an average of $800 a month for medications to remain alive.

I'm also severely allergic to secondhand cigarette smoke and just one breath of this caustic polluted smoke in a public place oftem results in a terrible burning senation all through my inner ears and sinuses, mouth and throat and a lung infection often involving a doctor's visit. I go through about two to four days of living hell everytime I'm exposed to just one breath of secondhand cigarette smoke. Smoker are legally allowed to cause a very serious physical assault on nonsmokers. Normally such injures would be treated as a felony if they physically touched a victim, but are legally allowed this form of assault due to a weakness in the laws.

One religious magazine recently condemned smoking as a very selfish act of pathetic drug addiction. Careless smokers for example cause about 1,000 grass or forest fires each year in a state like Oregon, and carelessly burn down about 30,000 homes, apartment buildings and businesses nationwide each year, and kill about 900 persons a year with these fires, and kill and injure many firemen as well.

Tobacco companies choose to market an expensive drug addiction to persons who are often very poor such as mentally ill persons, of which about 80% are smokers compared to only about 19% of the national population. Mentally ill persons often smoke as a form of self-medication to deal with anxiety or other disorders. Tobacco companies profit by creating a drug addiction among some of the poorest of persons, also sharply driving up taxes to pay for public health programs or other publicly funded emergency services.

On the Website of Philip Morris, they post information clearly stating that the secondhand smoke from their products causes inner ear damage to small children by creating painful inner ear infections such as Otis Media, which may could result in ear tube surgery. Further Philip Morris claims deaths of small infants through SIDS caused by their products, yet fails to post these serious health warnings on their cigarette packages. Isn't a product that causes the death of infants grounds for at least a product warning?

I have a Social Service background and I personally know of at least one incident where a poor woman with mental health issues used to participate in prostitution in exchange for cigarettes when her supply of smokes ran out. To have an addictiion so strong that a person would risk AIDS or other serious diseases is simply outrageous.

Good estimates are that smoking and drinking are responsible for about 40% of all hospital emergency room visits or hospital admissions in some way. Up to 80% of all cancer, including among nonsmokers may be due to tobacco smoke in some way. Every year the nation loses far more productivity and persons to smoking than terrorism has ever robbed our nation and economy, even during the aftermath of 9/11.

Cigarette smoke violates federal clean air laws by pumping lead, nickel, cadmium and 4,000 other toxic substances and drugs into the public air. It is only because this pollution is exported to millions of smokers around the U.S. rather than pouring out of the tobacco company's own smokestacks that a legal loophole allows illegal air pollution of this sort. Exporting of pollution needs to be treated the same as if the manufacturer is producing the pollution themselves. Automobile manufacturers are held to a similar standard, but not the tobacco companies. The entire intent of smoking is to produce air pollution, and the human body cannot easily rid itself of heavy metals or many other toxins in tobacco smoke.

Somehow Hollywood needs to get the message that smoking is so harmful to the nation that film portrayals of this serious form of drug addiction problem need to become far more rare. I'm not sure if an "R" rating is the absolute best way though.

The "R" rating will motivate filmmakers to lessen the depiction of smokers and smoking in their films, in order to avoid the "R" rating.

They aren't stopped from glamorizing smoking if they choose to do so, but it now has an economic impact if that's what they choose to do.

I'll certainly support anything that benefits society on this smoking issue, Lee. If the "R" rating helps to move Hollywood towards less depictions of this dangerous drug addiction, then that's certainly a major benefit to society.

Steve Crickmore:

But mightn't not giving a "R" rating have the opposite effect of glamorizing smoking to kids who would be forbidden to see the film. After all, most kids begin smoking because they think 'it's cool' and want to look grown up..

I say this as a strong an advocate of the rights of non-smokers as anyone. I encourage any government regulation that deters or stops young people from smoking. About 5 years ago I worked as interviewer for a door to door survey group, on the smoking habits and preferences of smokers. After a couple of days, my conscience wouldn't allow me to continue, so I quit when I realized that the underlying aim of the survey was to enable the sponsors of the survey, a big cigarette company, to better target and hook young smokers. It was about an hour-long survey/interview "When did you start smoking? etc." And given the choice, we were told to interview the youngest member of the household, who was a smoker.

Steve Crickmore:

Excuse me, I led off the comment with a double negative.

If smoking is only "glamorized" in "R" films, and if young people are forbidden to see "R' films does smoking thereby become a more highly desired "forbidden fruit"?

Does limiting nudity to "R" and "X" rated films make young people want to get naked more?

Paul Hamilton:

Wow. Lots of interesting comments here. I started smoking when I was 14 years old and quit in 1988, when I was 36. When I smoked, I had at least a couple episodes of bronchitis every year but since I've stopped, I haven't had any, and my overall health is vastly improved, so I agree with everyone that smoking is stupid.

But getting back to the point of the message, a LOT of things are bad for us, but it seems like smoking gets a very bad rap. Should we give films an R-rating if someone eats a candy bar? Seems to me that obesity is at least as serious an issue as smoking.

And does anybody else see the hypocrisy here? Smoking is legal, but we punish it every way we can think of. If it's that bad, why don't we just ban cigarettes completely? The answer, of course, is that politicians are in the pockets of the big donors and tobacco companies are right at the top of that list.

But as a libertarian, I don't like any of this. Yes, there are things in some films that make them inappropriate for children. Sex is one and I believe that violence is far worse, but some of the most violent films ever made are PG. And now some folks want to add smoking to the list. To me, this is just one more step down the road to indoctrination, which is why one of the tags I put on this article is "nannystate." It seems like everywhere you look, somebody has decided that something or other is "bad" and if it's "bad," then surely it must be banned or at the very least punished.

As I said above, I personally believe that smoking is stupid. But stupid or not, it's a legal activity and most important of all, it's a CHOICE. And the ability to make choices is what freedom is about. Parents should tell their kids the truth about smoking, provide a proper example by not smoking themselves, and trust them to do the right thing. Yes, a lot of them will try smoking, but most will quit just as quickly.

But we've got to get over this idea that it's acceptable to allow others to make the moral and ethical choices for us and our families which are rightfully our own.


Okay, correct me if I'm wrong here. Paul Hamilton is posting on WizBangBlue and he is a Libertarian? Impressive, I've always viewed libertarians to be on the conservative side of the isle.

When I first read your post I was not too sure on exactly what your stance on this subject is. I didn't notice you put the "nannystate" tag on the post... My bad.

Thank you for replying to your own post and clarifying your stance on this subject.

I don't know how to say this without sound like I am criticizing you... But you might want to put your views in your postings as well. To keep people from being confused about your stance on a topic. Honestly, I wasn't sure where you were going with it. If you had put this at the end of the piece... It would have been very well done, as opposed to just done.

How much longer before we're all issued a set of mandatory peril-sensitive sunglasses... We've got to get over this idea that it's acceptable to allow others to make the moral and ethical choices for us and our families which are rightfully our own.

Lee Ward, Devil's Advocate:

Should we give films an R-rating if someone eats a candy bar?"

If the candy bar has a Surgeon General's warning on it that reads:

Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, And May Complicate Pregnancy
Smoking By Pregnant Women May Result in Fetal Injury, Premature Birth, And Low Birth Weight

then it might be a good idea.

"Smoking is legal, but we punish it every way we can think of."

There seems to be a perception on the part of smokers that they are being persecuted, but in my view most of the customs and laws that might seem to be punishing smokers in fact are more about the protecting the rights of non-smokers.

Smoking is illegal under the age of 18 (I'm not sure if that's the law nationwide but I believe so), and the people being protected by this rating change are people under the age of 17 who can't see an "R' rated movie, so in effect the rating change is protecting those for whom smoking is illegal anyway, true? Aren't they the only party impacted by this?

If we won't let a 16 year old smoke, why should we allow the tobacco industry to tempt them through the glamorization of smoking in the films they watch?

Paul Hamilton:

Thanks for your comments Darby. A lot of times I will deliberately avoid posting my position on an issue because I believe that the best way society can deal with issues such as this is to discuss them. If I gave my opinion about it right off, it tends to stifle debate rather than encourage it. Of course I sometimes go the other way as well, such as in my very lengthy "Dubya Standard" post from earlier this evening.

Regarding my libertarian leanings, I will agree that at one time, the Republicans were the party which stood for less intrusion into the lives of citizens but since the NeoCon wing of the party took over, it's been the exact opposite. Now, they seem to have a rule for everything and see no aspect of the lives of citizens as being beyond their business. Freedom is the ultimate liberality and that's what I support.

Paul Hamilton:

The difference, Lee, is between SEEING someone smoke and smoking themselves. I agree that those under the age of 18 (not 21) shouldn't be allowed to purchase or consume alcohol or tobacco. But the idea that just observing someone smoking is inherantly harmful is a step too far.

By that standard, all smoking should be banned from anywhere a child might see it. Do you suggest that would be a good idea?

As for smoking restrictions in public places, I agree that it sounds like a good idea, but once again, it's a situation where the government is telling people how they should behave and how they must operate their own private property.

The proper solution is to let the market deal with the situation. Since I've quit smoking, I can't stand a smoky environment. So I would gladly give my money to a place which prohibited smoking on their property. But if someone wants to run a cigar bar, that's their business as well -- I won't go there by my own free will.

Public property is the tricky part. Since there are some times when just about all of us need to go to a public facility to do business, and since there really is no alternative, I believe that public areas in those buildings should be smoke-free since no one should be *forced* to be exposed to smoke. If they want to put in special smoking rooms for employees, that would be up to them. That way, everyone's rights are respected.


"There seems to be a perception on the part of smokers that they are being persecuted, but in my view most of the customs and laws that might seem to be punishing smokers in fact are more about the protecting the rights of non-smokers."

What about the rights of the smoker Lee? So the rights of a minority get trampled on to "protect" the majority?

"If we won't let a 16 year old smoke, why should we allow the tobacco industry to tempt them through the glamorization of smoking in the films they watch?"

Yet in most, if not all, states if a 16 year old commits murder, he/she is charged as an adult.

I would be interested to see the numbers on the amount of deaths cause by smoking, drinking, and by obesity per year.(I originally wasn't going to look it up, but I changed my mind.)

According to cancer.org:
"Smoking is responsible for nearly 1 in 5 deaths in the United States."

Here is some more detailed facts from cdc.gov on smoking number:
"Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body; causing many diseases and reducing the health of smokers in general.1 The adverse health effects from cigarette smoking account for an estimated 438,000 deaths, or nearly 1 of every 5 deaths, each year in the United States.2,3 More deaths are caused each year by tobacco use than by all deaths from human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and murders combined.2,4"

And according to Obesity.org:
"Poor diet and sedentary lifestyle, contributing factors of obesity, are responsible for between 300,000 and 587,000 deaths per year, making it the second leading cause of preventable death after smoking."

"Obesity is approaching the level of being the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. Yet AIDS, another cause of preventable death, receives about 5 times more research funding than obesity, as shown in Table 2."

I would suggest instead that we should fight obesity as hard as we are fighting smoking. I mean I want to the government to tell me what I can and cannot eat. Just like how I want to the government to tell me where I can and cannot smoke.

Next it'll be where I can and cannot live. What I can and cannot play. Where I can and cannot work. What I can and cannot think.

Thank you great Nannystate.

Paul Hamilton:

Clarification: In the last paragraph of the comment above, I'm talking about government facilities. I was using the same word -- "public" -- to describe two different things. In the earlier paragraphs, by "public" I meant "open to the public."


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Editors: Lee Ward, Larkin, Paul S Hooson, and Steve Crickmore

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