A smoking wizard. A puffing animated servant. A chain-smoking, grey-haired villainess.
For an Alberta anti-smoking coalition, such images should prompt an R-rating for new feature films targeted to youth — films such as The Hobbit, The Little Mermaid and 101 Dalmatians.
“[Movies] can normalize smoking behaviour and depict tobacco in a positive light. It’s often glamorized and the characteristics are positive, such as wealth, rebelliousness and sex. It doesn’t portray the real outcomes of tobacco use in any way,” said Angeline Webb, a senior policy adviser for the Canadian Cancer Society, which is part of the Campaign for a Smoke-Free Alberta.
The campaign, called Tobacco Rated R, wants the film classification group at Alberta Culture and Tourism to revise its regulations for new youth-targeted films that show images of smoking or implied smoking. Some high school students at the campaign launch Thursday said such a rating system could especially help their younger siblings.
“There are youth smokers and a lot of it is because we’ve seen it and we’ve been influenced by movies and TV shows. And it seems like a social norm and it shouldn’t be,” said Alex Harrison-Reid, a Grade 11 St. Albert Catholic High School student.
Fifty per cent of youth-rated films — including those rated G, PG and 14A — have tobacco imagery, said Kelly West, a University of Alberta master’s student who studied the prevalence of such images in top-grossing films released in Alberta over the past decade.
Other jurisdictions such as India have moved toward banning smoking in films or showing health warning before films where such images appear on screen. The movement to curb smoking in Hollywood flicks has been ongoing in the United States for years.
But the film rating system of the Motion Picture Association of America is different than in Alberta, said Paul Pearson, director of Alberta film classification at Alberta Culture and Tourism. An R-rating in Alberta is handed out roughly five times per year and involves films with explicit sexual content and sexual violence. No one under 18 is allowed in and it is the equivalent of a NC-17 rating in the States.
“A [wizard] smoking a pipe in The Hobbit doesn’t really offend anyone that we can see. We’ve never received a complaint from an Albertan about smoking,” he said. “[In The Hobbit], it’s not a 13-year-old kid stealing a pack of smokes and lighting up on screen. It’s in a fantasy context in a piece of literature that’s been around for almost a century,” Pearson said.
Alberta offers an online classification advisory, that provides more context about what appears in films. One of the categories includes substance abuse, which would include smoking, Pearson said.