A class-action lawsuit in California alleges that all movies featuring tobacco use should be rated R or higher.
Plaintiff Timothy Forsyth argues that tobacco use in films increases the likelihood that young audience members will start smoking. Hollywood, Forsyth claims, has known this since at least 2003. Cinematic smoking allows tobacco companies to circumvent prohibitions against broadcast advertising, he contends.
The defendants include the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which rates movies, the National Association of Theater Owners, which largely enforces the ratings, and a number of production companies that make the movies in the first place.
Should plaintiffs get their way, it would be an unprecedented government intrusion into a largely self-regulated industry. There is no legal obligation to have the MPAA rate a movie before it is released, nor are theaters legally required to check IDs when selling tickets to R-rated movies, though the vast majority of them do.
While the MPAA is the industry's best-known body tasked with determining a movie's appropriateness for different age groups, it's certainly not the only one. The Internet Movie Database, for example, has a user-generated parents' guide that includes more detail than the MPAA typically discloses.
At the time of this writing, no judge had yet agreed to hear the case.