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Let’s Take the Smoke Out of Kids’ Movies

Big tobacco capitalizes on the entertainment industry’s impact on youth with product placement—but since smoking in films is not seen as advertising, it doesn’t draw skepticism by viewers. Perhaps that should change.

It has been well and widely known for a while now that tobacco kills millions of people every year, and yet, young people continue to try the dangerous, addictive product. But why? For the exact same reason young girls are buying Kylie Jenner’s lip kits and young boys are buying Justin Bieber’s Calvin Klein underwear. Because they are emulating people they admire. While wearing lipstick and expensive underwear won’t kill them, smoking likely will.

Remember when, as parents, we thought all we had to worry about was materialism, bad attitudes, perhaps a trashy outfit or two or—worst case scenario—a body piercing (!) when it came to our kids emulating their famous role models? Well, it turns out those are the lightweight issues. Smoking is the heavyweight one…and it needs to be dealt with.

Smoking—even after all of the anti-smoking literature, television ads, videos and conversations we have exposed our kids to—continues to threaten our kids’ health as well as their lives. In fact, in this particular generation, 185,000 youth aged 0-17 living in Ontario alone, will start smoking because of onscreen product placement and promotion. Smoking is right there, in front of them, in their favourite movies, being silently and positively condoned by their favourite people in the world (no, not their parents—or even, for the most part, their peers—unfortunately).

The more our kids are positively (and rather surreptitiously) exposed to smoking, the more likely they are to try to start smoking themselves. Allowing smoking in movies has been proven to be a highly effective way to tell youth that smoking is a normal, cool and desirable behaviour.

Sign the e-petition
Ensure all new movies that contain tobacco be rated 18A.

The research—done internationally—literally speaks for itself. And for clarification, these weren’t some tiny studies done in small areas with 10 kids. These findings have been replicated in many different studies with different designs, different combinations of possible confounding factors, and in diverse population segments. The results were the same, regardless of whether the exposure represents Hollywood, Bollywood or other national and international film stars. The evidence shows that if we reduce our children’s exposure to scenes in which their idols smoke in movies, the result will be a reduction in their likelihood of ever even trying a cigarette. And that is something we can truly get behind.

But how can we do this? Thankfully, the Ontario Film Review Board has the ability to change Ontario’s rating system so that all new movies that contain smoking would be rated 18A. Direction from the Minister of Consumer Services can help make this change happen.

Be a part of an international movement to raise awareness on this issue and encourage the movie industry to remove tobacco imagery from youth-rated films. Help support a rating change in Ontario to protect youth, by preventing tobacco from being shown in future movies rated for kids and teens. Cigarettes, as truly toxic, addictive products, have no place in films marketed to children and youth.

The Smoke-Free Movies Campaign is an Ontario-wide initiative among public health units that is now in its second phase. Consider signing the e-petition requiring all new movies that contain tobacco to be rated 18A.

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