This week the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on the threat that cinematic depictions of smoking pose to the nation's youth. John Ensign (R-Nev.) and other senators want Hollywood to make fewer movies that depict smoking and to put an R rating on those that do. The Motion Picture Association of America's Jack Valenti rejected both suggestions, saying directors should be free to include smoking in their films when they think it's appropriate and that taking smoking into account in rating movies would open the door to criteria based on all sorts of agendas: Does the film include characters who overeat, litter, fail to recycle, speed, talk back to their parents?
The hearing highlighted a study supposedly showing that watching movies in which people smoke makes kids more likely to pick up the habit. "The data indicated that half the adolescents who initiated smoking in this study did so because of viewing smoking in movies," the lead author testified. "These results confirm prior research by providing strong evidence that viewing smoking in movies promotes smoking initiation among adolescents." As I noted when the study came out, this is a highly questionable reading of the results. An alternative interpretation is that the sort of kids who watch a lot of R-rated movies (which are more likely to feature smoking) are more inclined to smoke than the sort of kids who mainly watch PG or PG-13 movies.
It sounds like the highlight of the hearing was when anti-smoking activist Stanton Glantz asked, "When are we going to treat smoking as seriously as we treat the word fuck?" Ensign scolded Glantz for violating the Senate's decorum, and Glantz apologized but added that he said the word "deliberately." And he'll say it again if he has to, so Hollywood had better watch out.
[Thanks to Linda Stewart for the link.]