Public Health

Why Fox Isn't Bragging About Its Smoke-Free Movies

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The New York Times reports that several studios have, like Disney, adopted policies that discourage smoking in movies marketed to minors:

Under pressure from an antismoking lobby unsatisfied by a promise that the industry's trade group made in May to consider tobacco use as a factor in film ratings, the six largest studio owners have been patching together individual responses to those who want cigarettes out of films rated G, PG or PG-13.

Smoking opponents view the result as surprising progress toward a virtual ban on tobacco images in all but films with R or NC-17 ratings.

The Times notes that 20th Century Fox started cracking down on smoking scenes in 2004 but "has been reluctant to make a public issue of the studio's policy, for fear that it might open the door to demands from groups with other causes, or put the studio at a competitive disadvantage with filmmakers who see blanket restrictions on smoking as threatening the credibility of their work." One such filmmaker, Dreamgirls writer/director Bill Condon, tells the Times:

It's a chilling idea. Movies are supposed to reflect reality. You're taking away a detail that is one of the more defining aspects of a lifestyle.

As for "demands from groups with other causes," the possibilities seem endless. Under the "not in front of the kids" rationale for smoke-free movies, any depiction of any behavior that might lead to disease or injury, including speeding, gunplay, gluttony, and sloth (not to mention morally controversial practices such as fishing, meat eating, fur wearing, and SUV driving) is fair game. It's not hard to see why Fox has refrained from bragging about its anti-tobacco policy.

I commented on Disney's cinematic smoking policy in the Los Angeles Times last summer. 

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  1. Eventually, the only movies we’ll be allowed to see are the Star Wars Special Edition being re-released over and over…

  2. you mean “adopted policies that discourage [depictions of] smoking in movies marketed to minors…”

    Actual smoking is already virtually verboten – now it’s the idea itself they’re trying to eradicate…

  3. any depiction of any behavior that might lead to disease or injury, including speeding, gunplay, gluttony, and sloth (not to mention morally controversial practices such as fishing, meat eating, fur wearing, and SUV driving

    Well, at least James Bond will still get to nail the girl.

  4. Taktix:

    where scenes keep getting edited (“Han Shoots First”) and suchlick.

  5. Can we lobby for a ban on love story subplots? Does every film really need one? They ruined Hitchiker’s Guide with one (among other things). And Transformers, a movie about giant robots ferkrissakes, devoted a fair chunk of its runtime to teenage love.

  6. Do you see how powerful and dangerous second hand smoke is, now?! It can cause children to take up the habit just by seeing a film of it! Don’t worry, some rationality impaired moron will post a defense of this policy. Count on it.

    BTW, the “children” can kiss my ass!

  7. *shrug* I can’t get particularly worked up about this. The studio owns the rights to these movies, they choose to allow smoking scenes or not. End of story really. Kind of like a publisher that decides to publish a book with sexual content or not.

  8. where scenes keep getting edited (“Han Shoots First”) and suchlick.

    No, it’ll be the shitty versions with the needless slapstick and narrative ruins left after Lucas Edward-ized it.

  9. “Movies are supposed to reflect reality.”

    I have enough reality. I go to the movies to see big tits, big guns, car chases, some hot chick shooting an alien with a bazooka.

    “You’re taking away a detail that is one of the more defining aspects of a lifestyle.”

    Smoking is one of the more defining aspects of your lifestyle? You’re that shallow? I take a dump every morning but, I wouldn’t call it one of the more defining aspects of my lifestyle. It’s just something that happens.

    That wasn’t the dumbest quote I’ve ever seen but, it’s definitely in the 99th percentile.

  10. I dunno. This seems like less than meets the eye. There’s regulatory compulsion here, so what’s the libertarian complaint? As for the slippery-slope argument: I can think of plenty of reasons we’re not going to see bans on guns or gluttony any time soon. Namely, people really, really want to watch movies with guns and gluttony in them. This one isn’t exactly keeping me up at night.

  11. all I can say is

    SO FUCKING RIDICULOUS!!!!!!

  12. “Well, at least James Bond will still get to nail the girl.”

    actually, i read some comments in variety about the latest gen’s of james bond films (actually, they are MOVIEs not films. films sounds so pretentious) and they were talking about how, in the age of STD’s etc. that they consciously made an effort to downplay bond’s male sluttiness, etc. in deference to that. and this was like a decade ago. hardly something new.

    hollywood has always been completely unrealistic about guns (and concealed carry) in both tv and movies. the only people who carry guns are PI’s (except magnum), cops, criminals, and good guys placed in extraordinary circumstances. nobody is seen as just an average joe who carries, which completely ignores reality.

    a reasonably high %age of the population are people with other than cop/pi/etc. jobs, but who happen to carry concealed. these people do not even EXIST in hollywood depictions.

    frasier show was a perfect example. frasier’s dad was retired SPD. did u ever see him carry a weapon or mention CCW etc? of course not. i live in seattle. i know both current and retired SPD. most carry at least some of the time.

    church is another example. there are more exceptions now, due to cable variety (taking over from the hollywood oligarchy), but the majority of this country goes to religious services, but very few characters in sitcoms, dramas, etc. are seen as going to church, unless it has some specific plot driving elements (vs. going to the grocery store, gas stations, etc. which are depicted routinely).

    “Smoking is one of the more defining aspects of your lifestyle? You’re that shallow? I take a dump every morning but, I wouldn’t call it one of the more defining aspects of my lifestyle. It’s just something that happens.”

    and iirc, going to the john was largely ignored (out of propriety) in most sitcoms etc. on tv until all in the family, where they got big laffs by having archie flush the john in the background.

    hollywood has about zero to do with reality, so that WAS a kind of silly argument./

    i am way more concerned with such politically correct rewrites as “sum of all fears” where they completely change the ‘evildoers’ in the plot so as to be sensitive and PC, than i am with depictions of smoking.

    hollywoods best tool is not demonization, its denial.

  13. What’s up with that retard box?

  14. I see a day when the right has created a rating system that only allows human skin to be visible above the neck, and all mention of sex or non-fundamentalist thinking causes an xxx rating. The left will have all movies involving all human behavior as xxx under the assumption that all human behavior is inherently evil, and the libertarians will champion this solution as being the happy result of the market place.

    Once all factions (right, left and libertarians) will love the movies of folks in coveralls sitting in place and breathing as little as possible while occasionaly killing each other, as the height of entertainment.

    Odd that the only thing that will be allowed in future films will be violence.

    Odder still that almost everyone will welcome that. (well, except those opposed to TV)

  15. Smoking will be illegal in a few years. I can assure you of that. Movies should not be promoting a soon-to-be illegal activity. It’s just common sense. As for gluttony and all the rest of it, I’m working on that…

  16. “Smoking will be illegal in a few years. I can assure you of that. Movies should not be promoting a soon-to-be illegal activity. It’s just common sense. As for gluttony and all the rest of it, I’m working on that…”

    Granted any sane person knows this is tongue in cheek (at least on this sight) but the point actually should be talked about. Why should anyone care if someone puts smoking in or takes it out of THEIR movies because of a puerile concern about the rating the movie will receive?

    Studios have a right to make any movie they wish any way they wish (regardless of outside forces) and if you don’t like it (either because it contains smoking or because it does not) don’t watch! If a director bent to social pressure and removed a scene containing smoking and you don’t appreciate it simply don’t give your dollars to the movie.

    No one’s forcing anyone to watch these movies so where’s the beef?

  17. Studios have a right to make any movie they wish any way they wish (regardless of outside forces) and if you don’t like it (either because it contains smoking or because it does not) don’t watch!

    Guess Sullum forgot to include the Standard Libertarian Disclaimer. (Short version: Yeah, we know they have a right to do whatever, and we have a right not to participate. But we also have a right to call them stupid for doing so and express our desire that they change their minds.)

  18. I agree with Jeff P.

  19. i really loved that movie ‘coffee and….

  20. Don’t worry, excitable ones. If you read the studio policies, you’ll see that they craftily commit themselves to nothing. The freedom of the tobacco companies to corrupt producers (or is the other way around?) remains intact, at least outside U.S. jurisdiction. It’s been estimated that smoking on screen is worth $4 billion (npv) to the tobacco companies, in lifetime sales revenue from the U.S. adolescents it recruits each year. Not that this could possibly be the logical reason why you see it in PG-13 films exported worldwide. Let’s quickly find a more irrational explanation, like filmmakers’ whimsical creative choices, and ignore the long history of tobacco payoffs.

  21. It’s been estimated that smoking on screen is worth $4 billion (npv) to the tobacco companies, in lifetime sales revenue from the U.S. adolescents it recruits each year.

    Lots of things have “been estimated”. Any reason to believe this number is one of the true estimates? And nice use of the passive voice to avoid having to attribute that to anyone.

    Let’s quickly find a more irrational explanation, like filmmakers’ whimsical creative choices

    Yeah, those crazy filmmakers are so irrational for wanting to depict their characters acting in realistic ways, like practicing a habit shared by a third of men and a fifth of women in the U.S., according to the World Health Organization.

  22. “Movies are supposed to reflect reality.”

    They are? When did that start happening?

  23. I don’t really mind smoking on screen, but too many directors use it as a cheap expository trick. So what if I’m incapable of writing a screenplay that conveys the message of badassness….I can just have the mustachioed dude smoke and be done with it…..

    This from a smoker.

  24. I suspect we are well on our way to the kajillionth demonstration of the Iron Law – you get more of what you reward, etc.

  25. Next target: movie stars themselves. Bad role models.

  26. “It’s been estimated that smoking on screen is worth $4 billion (npv) to the tobacco companies, in lifetime sales revenue from the U.S. adolescents it recruits each year.”

    I’d like someone to find an Actual Real-Life Adolescent who has been “recruited” to smoke by onscreen cigarettes.

    My own anecdote doesn’t mean shit, of course, but I know the only reason I ever picked up a cigarette is that I was a 10th grader trying to impress senior Julie H— (name withheld to protect the not-so-innocent), a Marlboro Lights 100 smoker the night of that party at Brad R—‘s parents’ house. (And yes, by God, I got her that night.)

    In my own observation, smoking is something that kinda gets passed along from teenager to teenager like that, in a kind of constant churn over generations. Rare must be the 17-year-old who simply wakes up, decides out of the blue (or because of a psyche immersed in Hollywood film) to head to the corner shop, and tries to get his hands on a pack of smokes.

    You know, you don’t see a lot of movies where eenie-meenie-minie-mo is portrayed, yet somehow kids manage to keep passing along the habit.

  27. Anyone here remember the kinder and gentler world of The Cosby Show? It was answered on a fledgling network called FOX with a crude little comedy called Married With Children. Expect lots of independent studios to produce anti-anti-smoking movies. Satire cannot be regulated. But (alas) there will still be exploding cars. Lots and lots of exploding cars.

  28. S of S:

    you know, like all of the accurate space physics in the Star Wars movies!

    or that martial art in “Remo Williams”

  29. or that martial art in “Remo Williams”

    Or Joel Grey as an asian.

    The Adventure Begins (and ends).

  30. that, too, de stijl!

  31. What wil our children be allowed to watch in ten years time. If the antis do not like something, they will lie through their teeth,, to make people believe what they want anyway.
    Power, greed and corruption is hat you should be showing, if you want reality TV, because there is plenty of that going around.
    The nanny state wants zombies, given the amount of drug adverts that are on the TV now. All I see is J&J with their carcinogenic air fresheners and chemicla products. So healthy for out children aren’t they. They make me reach for my salt pipe before I can turn the ads off.
    How many USA children are on prescription drugs, with their anti-depressants and ADZ drugs.
    They will not have any freedoms left by the time the antis have finished. Too much money to give up such a lucrative job.
    I do not watch any PC, TV anymore, I will not be brainwashed from people who sell their souls for a dollar. Then precede to tell others what they should or should not like.
    I would not have another holiday at disney, if it was free for a fortnight, with everything thrown in.

  32. sedition said: i really loved that movie ‘coffee and….

    Awesome movie. The two eponymous vices are integrated seamlessly into the film. Jarmusch is the man.

    But like any of us indie-types need another cheap way to be edgy and get an ‘R’ rating.

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