When I first started watching Mad Men, one of most disconcerting elements of the show to me was initially its inclusion of cigarettes. These constant, steady cigarette smoke streams throughout each episode — in the office, at home, in restaurants, by and around pregnant women. It was completely different than how things are presently, and it was considerably different than so many shows and movies that have been produced in the last fifteen years that don’t use cigarettes. Now, however, smoking in movies appears to be increasing.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been large jumps in the number of smoking incidents in rated R, rated PG-13 and top-grossing films between 2011 and 2012. Despite having decreased between 2005 and 2010, scenes involving smoking actually rose in 2011 and 2012.
Unfortunately, there is a link between kids starting to smoke and images of smoking, so seeing this many images of famous people puffing on cigarettes could absolutely impact them. As a result, public health groups have created “Smoke-Free Movie Policies,” which are endorsed by authorities on health all over the world with the following rules:
Studios and theaters should require an effective anti-smoking ad to run before any film with any tobacco presence.
A certification should appear in the closing credits declaring production staff did not receive any consideration in exchange for using or displaying tobacco.
Tobacco brand identification or imagery should be eliminated from films.
Any film that does show or imply tobacco use should be rated “R,” except if it clearly reflects the consequences of tobacco use or is necessary for historical accuracy.
Personally, I have a difficult time with my inner debate on the subject: on the one hand, it’s terrible that kids could be starting to smoke more because of these films or shows. On the other hand, I believe in keeping things historically accurate and in artistic freedom. So where is the line drawn between “responsible” and a “bad example”? While there are tons of PSAs and campaigns to prevent kids from smoking, there’s really no match for how much movies and television actually impact their images on what’s cool or “adult.”
Photo: Lord of the Rings