As Dave noted earlier this morning, the Motion Picture Association of America has announced that from now on its film ratings will take on-screen smoking by adults as well as minors into account. The concession falls short of the automatic R rating anti-smoking activists have demanded for any movie that depicts smoking. The MPAA's approach, on paper at least, is a little more nuanced:
[MPAA Chairman] Dan Glickman described the move as an extension of the MPAA's practice of factoring underage smoking into the rating of films. The ratings board will ask three questions, he said:
Is the smoking pervasive?
Does the film glamorize smoking?
Is there a historic or other mitigating context?
Also, when a film's rating is affected by the depiction of smoking, the rating will include such phrases as "glamorized smoking" or "pervasive smoking."
These criteria make more sense than the activists' standard, according to which a smoker who accidentally immolates himself or dies of lung cancer counts the same as a cool, suave smoker who's a sex machine to all the chicks. And whatever you think of the MPAA ratings' usefulness, consistency, or fairness, considering smoking is not inherently more problematic than considering drinking, illegal drug use, sex, violence, or profanity. Ostensibly, the MPAA is responding to the diverse values and concerns of parents who are trying to decide whether a particular movie is appropriate for their kids. Some parents presumably worry about glamorized cinematic smoking, just as others worry about casual, consequence-free sex. Even if the ratings board falls short of its customer-oriented ideal in practice, I much prefer this rationale to the pseudoscientific nonsense of activists who claim eliminating smoking from movies would cut tobacco use among teenagers in half.
[Thanks to Mark Lambert for the tip.]