I am totally opposed to smoking. I think that it is a vile habit fueled by a greedy and evil industry. Whenever I see a young person smoking, I cringe the way one would if you saw the pollution of a beautiful, pristine landscape.
A recent article in The Sun reported that a majority of Ontarians supported the idea of banning smoking in youth targeted films. On the surface this looks like a good idea, but I think it may be an ineffective and dangerous, knee-jerk reaction.
First of all, there is the fact that the survey is suspect. Whenever seeing statistics from surveys I always ask myself to regard the source. In this case the survey comes from The Ontario Coalition for Smoke Free Movies and was released on World Smoke Free Day. If the survey had been released by a pro-tobacco organization, we would immediately be suspicious of the survey and want to see more proof. A cor-relational study which shows that kids who watch a certain type of movie are also slightly more likely to try smoking proves nothing. It doesn’t even prove that the smoking behaviour is sustained. In spite of the fact that I might support the ultimate aims of an anti-tobacco organization, I strongly believe that it’s report should be no less subject to scrutiny than that of a pro-tobacco organization. We should not be blinded by our own opinions. If we want effective anti-smoking tactics, we’d better come up with better studies and analysis.
In the article, Dr. Palizzari, Peterborough’s Medical Officer of Health, is quoted as saying, “Research shows the more youth see smoking in movies, the more likely they are to start.” Once again, I would like to see the data on this. I’m sure that seeing glamorous stars smoking while off the screen might have an impact, just as would seeing any role model (athlete, for example) do anything. Seeing a hero smoking in a movie might promote the idea of smoking. But what about the villain smoking? If a hero can potentially promote smoking, why can’t a villain potentially deter smoking?
And, how exactly do we decide which movies we are going to apply this rule to? Some would be obvious, as they are clearly identifiable as children’s movies. As a teacher, I have observed that most children under 10 are already very anti-smoking. The danger is usually amoung the adolescents, especially starting high school. So, what about Transformers or a movie like Super 8? These are clearly the movies that carry weight with the youth demographic at risk. Should they be subject to this ban?
It would be a mess. Moreover, it would be a dangerous infringement on artistic freedom. It is not a good idea for the government to start telling movie makers what they can and can’t do. How many things could we argue should be banned from youth targeted movies. How about fast food? How about gender role stereotypes? How about alternative life styles? I’m not sure we want to open the Pandora’s box of government regulation and return to the censor board of the 60s and 70s. Certain restriction is arguable in the area of content involving sex or violence, -but even that has to be approached with care.
Rather than regulate films in this way, why not place an anti-smoking message at the beginning of the film? It can even be done by the character who is smoking in the film, in order to give it more power. I would think that this would be even more effective than regulating reality. At least it deserves to have a proper study done by an independent agency.