Past Event

Are Fictitious Cigarettes Harmful to Your Health?

Location Change Announcement: On Wednesday, May 31, the Café Society discussion at the Chicago Cultural Center will meet in the Washington Room located in the southwest corner of the first floor. (We will not be meeting in the Randolph Street Café.) We hope you can join us along with visiting students from Perspectives Charter School!

Earlier this month, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) announced that the presence of cigarette smoking in a movie will be a bigger factor in assigning a movie’s rating. This places smoking on par with other determining factors such as language, sexual content and violence in the MPAA’s G, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17 classifications. The ratings board will ask three questions to define whether a film should be rated R: Is the smoking pervasive? Does the film glamorize smoking? Is there a historic or other mitigating context?

Anti-smoking activists and researchers consider this new policy by the MPAA a partial victory. They had called for mandatory R ratings for all films in which any character smokes, arguing that the presence of cigarettes in films glamorizes smoking and encourages children to take up the habit. Public health advocates report that tobacco use is the largest preventable cause of death in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 438,000 people in the U.S. and 5 million worldwide die prematurely each year from tobacco-related disease. Since smoking does cause so many deaths and is particularly appealing to so many young people, does this new system go far enough to prevent the creation of new, younger smokers?Should raters be as tough on smoking as they are on depictions of graphic violence? Would greater restrictions on films that depict other deadly health habits—such as obesity or alcohol use—be useful to parents and benefit young people as well?

Under this new system, the recent PG-13 releases Lucky You with Drew Barrymore and the summer blockbuster Spider-Man 3 would both have rated R simply for the depiction of smoking. Since an R rating limits a film’s audience and consequently decreases its profits, the new criteria could hurt ticket sales and negatively impact the economics of the film industry. It also complicates the creative process for writers and directors, since these restrictions limit the kinds of characters and situations they can develop. Certain critics have charged that these new MPAA rules violate artists’ right to freedom of expression and have called them a form of censorship. Is this an inexcusable regulation of art? Is the MPAA imposing the moralities of a select group on a larger audience?Should writers, directors and actors be able to include smoking in their movies without worrying about decreasing their long-term financial success in Hollywood?

Join us this week to share your opinion on the consequences of depicting—or not depicting—smoking in movies.

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For more informaiton, please contact Kristin Millikan at 312.422.5580.