Public Health

'A Lot of Kids Are Going to Start Smoking Because of This Movie'

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USA Today reports that "anti-smoking advocates are calling the animated PG movie Rango a public health hazard for its numerous depictions of smoking." These depictions of smoking are so numerous that Breathe California, which specializes in counting depictions of smoking, lost count. "Because there are so many scenes in which characters smoke," the group "might not be able to get a definitive count until Rango comes out on DVD." In the meantime, all it can say for sure is that Rango is in the same league as 101 Dalmatians, which had "about 60 instances of Cruella De Vil smoking."

As that example suggests, tobaccophobic puff counters do not pay much attention to context. Whether the character who smokes is the hero or the villain, whether

he lives a long, happy life or dies a painful, premature death from lung cancer or self-immolation, every shot of him smoking is presumed to encourage imitation. Hence Paramount, the studio that produced Rango, does itself no good by protesting that "the images of smoking in the film…are portrayed by supporting characters and are not intended to be celebrated or emulated." After all, "youths who frequently see smoking onscreen are two to three times more likely to begin smoking than peers who rarely see it depicted." Which clearly means, according to anti-smoking activist Stanton Glantz, that "a lot of kids are going to start smoking because of this movie." Presumably we will know exactly how many after the DVD comes out.

Glantz, who thinks any movie with smoking in it should automatically be rated R, claims that policy "would cut movie smoking's effect on kids in half, saving 50,000 lives a year in the U.S. alone." In a 2005 Reason article, I questioned the scientific basis for such calculations. Over at Filmdrunk, Danger Guerrero questions the existence of Stanton Glantz.

[Thanks to Meredith Bragg for the tip.]