Anti-Smoking Campaign Hits the Big Screen

Ethan Hawke said all you need in life is a "couple of smokes, a cup of coffee" and some conversation to get by happily in the post-college comedy "Reality Bites," but if the movie was released today that kind of thinking might push its rating from PG-13 to an R.

In Hollywood, as long as there have been movies, cigarettes have provided comfort for characters in tough, stressful situations.

Watch Dan Harris' full report tonight on "World News with Charles Gibson."

That tradition has had anti-smoking activists up in arms in recent years, as cigarettes sometimes appear in movies marketed for teens. Now, the movie ratings board, the Motion Picture Association of America, has added smoking to the list of vices that could push a rating from PG-13 to R unless the cigarettes are deemed essential to the plot.

That's a big switch from the ratings system used for the classic, G-rated "Casablanca," where Humphrey Bogart smoked frequently late into the night.

More recently there were cigarettes in "Star Trek: First Contact," the comedy "My Best Friend's Wedding" and even in some animated films from "Ant Bully" to "101 Dalmatians" with its villainous Cruella De Vil.

That attitude has now changed among those who rate the movies. "For some time we have recognized that teen smoking is a major concern for parents," MPAA President Dan Glickman told ABC News. "We want to ensure that our ratings keep these concerns appropriately in mind."

Those concerns relate directly to some movies that were marketed to kids and featured stars puffing away, like "X-Men," and "The Lost World: Jurassic Park." Both were rated PG-13.

"There's growing evidence that smoking in the movies is a major contributor to kids taking up smoking," said New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden.

Does the Decision Go Far Enough?

As part of the new ratings system, the MPAA has joined the coalition Hollywood Unfiltered, which includes the support of directors Rob Reiner, Taylor Hackford and Steven Soderbergh, to raise awareness within the industry about the consequences of depicting smoking on screen.

"Each of us has lost loved ones to smoking," Glickman said in a statement issued Thursday. "So many filmmakers already are bringing their unique creative visions to this challenge, whether it's the fact that you won't find smoking in 'The Devil Wears Prada' or Superman repeatedly blowing out Lois Lane's cigarette in 'Superman Returns.' The choice remains wholly with the creators."

Critics of the decision say it doesn't go far enough, and they would like all movies with smoking to warrant an R rating. They also request that the new ratings guidelines become retroactive.

But the MPAA rejected those points to give filmmakers the opportunity to argue that their characters need to smoke as part of a plot point, and that the use of a cigarette alone should not warrant a rating for older viewers.

The MPAA is also keeping past ratings in place. That means Molly Ringwald's character's need for a little nicotine courage before talking to her love interest, played by Michael Schoeffling, in "16 Candles" will always be rated PG.