Cigar Smoke Wafts Into Children's Movies

Health groups are fuming at Hollywood's continued taste for smoking.

Nov. 6, 2008 — -- Health groups are fuming at Hollywood's continued taste for smoking.

A new study by the American Medical Association Alliance, the volunteer branch of the AMA, finds that over the past six years more than half of the movies geared toward children feature characters smoking. In more than a quarter of the movies, actors light up cigars.

And officials say the Motion Picture Association of America has failed to deliver on its vow last year to weigh smoking in the ratings process.

Among the latest study's findings:

•Since 2002, out of 617 movies rated G, PG or PG-13, 57% have featured smoking; since 2007, when the MPAA's stricter policy took effect, 49% have featured smoking.

•Out of 441 movies rated PG-13, 296, or 67%, have featured smoking of some kind. That number has dropped to 56% since last year.

Sandi Frost, president of the AMAA, says the group launched the study after noticing that most of the teen-oriented summer blockbusters, including "Iron Man," "The Incredible Hulk" and "The Dark Knight," featured cigar smoking.

"Hollywood has not responded to the call of the public to reduce the images of tobacco," she says. The MPAA "hasn't fulfilled its promise."

MPAA spokesman Seth Oster takes issue with the study. He says his organization's own four-year analysis of 3,400 films found that of the 1,938 movies that featured smoking, 75% were rated R. In addition, he notes, the MPAA has added phrases such as "glamorizes smoking" and "pervasive smoking" in its ratings. "We have incorporated smoking as a factor on par with other issues like language, violence and sexual situations," Oster says. "The motion picture industry takes very seriously the issue of smoking in films."

The AMAA and American Lung Association are pushing for any film with smoking — other than a biographical film or a movie addressing the dangers of tobacco — to get an automatic R rating, which requires anyone under 17 be accompanied by an adult.

"Hollywood has been bombarding people with smoking messages for decades," says Paul Billings, vice president of national policy and advocacy for the lung association. "But they're still allowed to send the wrong signal to kids, who are seeing their heroes smoking."