PG-13 May Not Be So Youth Friendly After All

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Summer is nearly upon us, which means our youth will have more time to revel in the delight of school-free days for the next few months. For many, summer blockbusters in air-conditioned movie theaters are an ageless tradition for passing the time on hot summer days. While movies can be a great way to escape the Texas heat, parents may want to brush up on what their kids could be seeing, especially when it comes to tobacco and alcohol product placement – even in films rated PG-13.

Tobacco in Movies
Parents and youth may be surprised to learn that movies with smoking are a big influence when it comes to young people’s decisions to start smoking. In fact, the 2012 U.S. Surgeon General’s Report establishes that there is a “causal relationship between depictions of smoking in the movies and the initiation of smoking among young people.”

For years, the tobacco industry spent millions of dollars getting their brands on screen to promote their products. Though the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement prohibited tobacco placement in entertainment accessible to kids, young people continue to see smoking in youth-rated films. According to research conducted at the University of California Center for Tobacco Research Control and Education, from 2002 to 2015, nearly half (46%) of the top-grossing movies in the U.S. were rated PG-13. Of those, approximately 6 out of every 10 movies (59%) showed smoking or some other form of tobacco use.

Smoke Free Movies, an organization started by tobacco policy and research guru Stanton A. Glantz, has found that “smoking in movies kills in real life.” The organization hopes to reduce young audiences’ exposure to smoking in movies and create counter-incentives to keep the tobacco industry out of entertainment media. Smoke Free Movies suggests five evidence-based policies to reduce adolescents’ exposure to tobacco onscreen and to reduce tobacco addiction, disease, and death overall:

  1. Give an R-rating to any future film that shows or implies tobacco use.
  2. Certify that nobody associated with a production received a payoff for including tobacco depictions.
  3. Require that studios and theaters run strong anti-smoking ads immediately before any production that has any tobacco presence.
  4. Stop identifying tobacco brands in any scenes of a media production.
  5. End public subsidies for any productions that include tobacco imagery.

Looking at the first policy alone, Smoke Free Movies says that “one little letter will save a million lives.” The way movies are currently rated, the organization estimates that movies with smoking will cause 6.4 million children and teens to become smokers, and it will result in 2 million smoking deaths among that same group. However, their research shows that an R-rating would essentially cut both of those numbers in half by keeping 3.1 million kids from smoking and preventing 1 million smoking deaths among today’s youth. Together, all five of the policies mentioned above can truly help future generations live smoke-free. To learn more about the initiative and how to get involved, visit smokefreemovies.ucsf.edu.

Alcohol in Movies
It is also worth noting that tobacco isn’t the only substance youth are exposed to in movies. Research presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting shows that alcohol brand placement in movies has nearly doubled over the past two decades. Researchers also found that alcohol brands appeared in 41% of child-rated movies during the study period (1996 – 2015). Three brands – Budweiser, Miller, and Heineken – accounted for almost one-third of all brand placements, but Budweiser had the highest amount of appearances in child-rated movies (15%). And, it turns out that the brands most often seen in movies are the ones that young people say they drink the most. An author of the study says this is not a surprising result since youth often see movie stars as role models. As a result, when they see one of their favorite celebrities drinking a certain brand, youth associate that brand with all of the characteristics they admire about that celebrity. What makes alcohol exposure in movies even more troubling is the fact that the Center on Alcohol and Youth Marketing (CAMY) has found that the more people under the legal drinking age of 21 are exposed to alcohol marketing, the more likely they are to start drinking early and engage in binge drinking.

Texan Standing Tall’s Youth Leadership Council (YLC) members are not keen on being targets for the alcohol industry, so they’ve decided to use their voices to fight back. Most recently, they presented on the topic at our 2017 Summit on Healthy and Safe Communities; they are currently working on service projects to increase awareness about the role alcohol marketing plays in youth use of alcohol. If you or a youth you know is interested in joining the YLC to work on this issue or others like it, the application for the 2017-2018 YLC year is now open. Join us and this amazing group of young leaders as we work to create safe and healthy communities for all Texans!

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