Just a few days before the 89th Academy Awards are handed out in Los Angeles, a group of students at David Thompson Secondary in Vancouver is calling out films and directors that, they say, are glamourizing smoking to young people.
Grade 10 student Alisha Kumar says 15 of the Oscar nominees this year feature smoking and all but one of the 15 films are rated for youth audiences in British Columbia.
Using the hashtag #NotSmokingHot, Kumar and her fellow students are hoping to raise awareness about smoking in movies and how it entices youth to start the potentially deadly habit.
The students are posting homemade posters with images of blockbuster movies featuring smoking characters.
“Peter Pan, Aladdin, Pinocchio, a lot of Disney movies I have noticed throughout this campaign have smoking in them, which is shocking to me,” said Kumar. “Even though these movies are older, kids still watch them.”
BC Healthy Living Alliance says there is compelling international and Canadian evidence linking youth smoking to smoking imagery in films.
“Most people who smoke started smoking when they were young,” said Scott McDonald, Chair of the BC Healthy Living Alliance and CEO of the BC Lung Association. “Very few people start smoking after the age of 21 — 98 per cent of smokers are smoking by the time they are 17.”
McDonald says many film producers choose to feature smoking in their productions to achieve a certain character portrayal.
“It shows that the person who is smoking is not controlled by societal norms – a tough guy or woman who has a mind of their own,” he said. “Young people may relate to that. They may also want to be rebellious and part of that rebellion may be to smoke.”
He says their goal is to have movies rated differently depending on whether they feature smoking.
“We’d like to see the classification system think about smoking depictions in films, such that films where smoking is depicted are rated R, so that young people are not exposed to the use of tobacco by their idols.”
McDonald does not believe a revamp of the rating system would equate to censorship.
“If the directors and producers feel that they need to include smoking in the film, then they should also understand that the film might be rated such that the audience will be restricted to adults only – it would be a commercial and artistic choice.”
McDonald says, compared to B.C., there are more restrictions on tobacco depiction in movies in other provinces and the U.S.
He says they have expressed their concerns to the B.C. government, but have not heard anything back yet.
“We are going to continue to pressure the government to try to have the film classification rating changed to include depictions of tobacco use,” he said.
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