Coalition wants movies with smoking rated 18A

WATCH: The Coalition for Smoke-Free Movies is calling for a change in how movies with smoking are rated. Jennifer Palisoc reports.

TORONTO – What made you start smoking? Was it your friends, a relative, or how about James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause or Leonardo Di Caprio in Romeo and Juliet?

The Non-Smokers’ Rights Association and the Ontario Coalition for Smoke-Free Movies wants any movie in which a character is smoking to be restricted to children with an 18A rating.

Citing a recent report which suggests 37 per cent of smokers may have picked up the habit after seeing an actor light up, the group wants to keep the eyes of children from seeing their onscreen idols smoking.

“It’s very important that the Ontario Film Review Board changes its rating for movies with smoking in them to 18A and if they’re hesitant then it’s very important the Ontario government gives them direction to do that if they’re worried about the politics of the decision,” Michael Perly, the director of the Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco said.

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The number of films with onscreen tobacco use has dropped in the last decade from 70 per cent to approximately 54 per cent, according to a report by the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit. The movies with the most prevalent use of tobacco were rated 18A, with tobacco use decreasing as films became more child-friendly.  Eleven per cent of movies with a G-rating had onscreen tobacco use.

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“I don’t know how many years it will take but I will look forward to a day when no teenager or under teen ever see’s smoking in movies,” Perly said.

The number of smokers in Canada has dropped in recent years. According to Statistics Canada, the percentage of Canadians who smoke dropped from 23 per cent in 2003 to 19.3 per cent in 2013.

So should kids be kept from seeing movies with cigarettes? Movies are one of the last forms of media where tobacco use can be shown to kids – it’s illegal to advertise on billboards and magazines, and companies can’t buy ads on television.

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“It’s one of the last vestiges that we have for tobacco companies to promote their lethal products,” Robert Schwartz, an associate professor at the University of Toronto with the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit said in an interview Friday.

Schwartz suggests the characters the actors are playing can reaffirm smoking’s acceptability.

“The people who are smoking are actors they’re portraying people in the movies who are heroes, sometimes villains who attract certain people,” he said. “It makes the act of smoking socially acceptable, it makes it cool, it makes it a desirable thing to do.”

Smoking contributes to more than 37,000 deaths each year in Canada, according to the University of Ottawa. Nearly 11,000 of those deaths are from heart disease or stroke.

Smoking is the leading cause of premature death in the country, according to the university.

The two groups are holding a forum called Silencing Big Tobacco on the Big Screen at the Marriott hotel in downtown Toronto on Feb. 5

– With files from Jennifer Palisoc

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