I was almost ten the year Grease came out in theatres (go ahead do the math), and I fell hard for that movie, in particular the lead character of Sandy played by Olivia Newton-John. I begged my mother to buy me the soundtrack and played it ad nauseum in our basement, practicing Sandy’s every move on our shag carpet. This iconic scene though was my favourite to act out.
I mean c’mon! She’s gorgeous, the guys are falling all over her and when she takes a drag of that cigarette and says, “Tell me about it stud.”, you can’t help but feel that Sandy just conquered the world. Every little girl wanted to be her, woman around the globe copied her style and men everywhere wished they had a Sandy of their own. One year later, at the ripe old age of eleven, I had my first cigarette.
Growing up in the 70s, smoking was still more than socially acceptable and while I can’t draw a straight line from seeing Sandy smoking to my picking it up, I can say without a doubt that she definitely played a part in it. Little girls want to grow up fast, and for me, that meant puffing on a cigarette. By the time my parents found out, I was already addicted and it would be almost twenty years before I could walk away from these disgusting death sticks forever.
Obviously, we live in a time now that we know so much more about smoking and the harmful effects it has on our health and even the health of non-smokers. We have laws preventing the sale of cigarettes to minors (no more forged notes handed in at the corner store), and impactful messaging on packaging. We also have strict laws on where and when you can smoke. These are all great things and as a mother to two children, I am grateful that my kids no longer live in a culture that accepts smoking as the norm. Except that, there is still one place where smoking is considered not only normal, but glamourous, and that’s the movies.
Movies influence kids. I know this to be true, and so does Smoke Free Movies. The Smoke Free Movies Campaign is an Ontario-wide initiative and it’s not only a program I can get behind but a subject matter I feel passionately about. Smoking is not, never has and never will be glamourous. The reality is that it stinks, costs a fortune and worst of all, causes cancer related illnesses that often lead to early death. Super sexy, right?
Why then does Hollywood keep putting smoking front and centre for our kids to consume? Easy. The tobacco companies have to be creative now, since their ability to advertise to minors has become increasingly restricted. Tobacco policies adopted by the major studios between 2007 and 2013 allowed smoking in 42% of their top-grossing PG-13 films and exposed moviegoers to 47 billion tobacco impressions. There is simply no reason for this other than to further the tobacco industry’s agenda to get new users addicted to their products.
Take a closer look at these two movies and consider whether smoking would have changed the success of them.
Last year’s Academy award nominee, La La Land had one extra smoking in the film. This scene didn’t advance the narrative of the story in anyway and wasn’t crucial to the storyline, in fact it’s so inconsequential, why even include it? Easy—that sly slipping in of cigarette smoking created a whopping 31 million tobacco impressions. These small, and perhaps unnoticed by you, tobacco inclusions create what’s called a dose-response in our children who watch these movies. In the simplest of terms, it means the more you see of something, the more likely you are to normalize it. In fact a whopping 86% of movies rated for teens and children contain smoking.
Now, let’s consider what responsible film-making looks like. Last year’s Hidden Figures was set in the 1960s; a time when smoking was not only normal but widely accepted. In the context of the story it would have been historically accurate to include cigarette smoking. Still, not one single person or extra lit up a cigarette during that movie. This exclusion of cigarettes didn’t diminish the story in the slightest. If a movie set in a time where cigarette smoking was everywhere can exclude it and not have anyone notice, why include smoking in any movie.
As a parent, I’m concerned that smoking is included in movies rated for my children. That’s why Smoke Free Movies wants to see all new movies with smoking rated 18A. This small change in our ratings system will have a big impact. First, an 18A rating would make film makers think twice about including smoking in their films, knowing that their audience size would be drastically reduced. Second and most important of all, it would save lives! 185,000 children and teens (aged 0-17) in Ontario will start smoking because of their exposure to onscreen smoking. That’s approximately 37% of Ontario youth smokers who are recruited to become smokers due to seeing smoking in the movies. We can change that.
Take two seconds and sign this petition to have the ratings system for new movies that include smoking changed to 18A. After you’ve signed, be sure to share with your friends on social to keep the momentum going. Together, we can roll back this ridiculous ploy to get our children smoking.