Seeing Through the Smokescreen: Do you know what your kids are watching?

There has been a lot of discussion in the past couple years among scientists, the public health community and the media about the impact of smoking and tobacco images in movies. 

Movie content seems to have changed since I was growing up. Movies rated G or PG were consider appropriate for all ages, and were great to watch as a family.  Today it seems like there is more questionable content in movies and many more things to consider, and with our busy schedules it makes it really hard to keep up with what’s okay for our kids to watch.  Most times we rely on suggestions from friends or we look to see what the movie has been rated.  I’m sure many of you, like me, hope that movies rated G or PG will be okay for our children to watch.  However, this is not always the case.    

The movie rating system in Ontario takes into account violence, nudity, language, etc.  However, there are many things not included or considered when assigning a movie rating.  One of these is smoking! 

You may be asking yourself, why is smoking in movies is even an issue? Research by many leading public health authorities has shown that smoking images in movies can influence children and teens, and make them more likely to try smoking.  Whether it be “just a few puffs” or using tobacco on a regular basis.    

While there are a number of factors that influence children and teens to try smoking, such as having friends or family who smoke.  Researchers still found a strong link between smoking in movies and teens trying smoking while considering all the other factors.

Whether smoking appeared in the background or foreground, whether it was a “good guy” or a “bad guy”, whether it appeared a lot all at once or a little over time the influence was the same.  It is the buildup of smoking images in our children’s minds that counts.    

The more times a child or teen sees smoking in movies the more likely they are to start. 

Why is this so important? 

  • Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in Ontario, killing 13,000 people a year.
  • Last year (2012) in Ontario, 83 per cent of movies  that included smoking scenes were rated G, PG or 14A (rated for a children and teen audience). This is troubling since we now know that the more youth see smoking in movies, the more likely they are to start.
  • We have seen the influence of Hollywood on pop culture and the choices that children and teens make from the clothes that they wear, the haircuts they choose, to the words that they use.  Why would the influence of smoking be any different?   
  • The tobacco industry’s own documents show the history of the relationship between the Tobacco Industry and Hollywood for tobacco logo/product placement and actors smoking in movies.  In some of these documents tobacco companies discussed the susceptibility of teens to media images and admitted that exploiting them was their goal.  

What can be done?  The current rating system in Ontario does not consider smoking when assigning a rating for a movie.  By making changes to the current rating system, Ontario children and teens can be protected from starting a life-long tobacco addiction. 

Imagine the impact if all future movies rated G, PG, or 14A would not contain any smoking or tobacco product images. 

Do people support this issue?  YES!  Ontarians support smoke-free movies!  In March 2011, 77% of Ontarians surveyed supported not allowing smoking in movies rated for children and teens (G, PG, 14A).

What can I do?

  • Learn more.  Visit and learn more about the issue of smoking in the movies.
  • Be aware.  What are your children watching?  To learn which movies have smoking in them visit the Hooked by Hollywood Facebook Page every Thursday for updates on newly released Ontario rated movies and their tobacco  content  (both in theatres and new to DVD, Blu-Ray and On-Demand).
  • Talk with your children about tobacco and moviesTeach them to be media aware
  • Talk with other parents about this issue.  More information is available here.
  • Show your support!  So that future movies rated for children and teens (G, PG, 14A) don’t have smoking or tobacco images.

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