Health board seeks restrictions for movies depicting smoking

The new animated children’s movie Rango has a lot of characters smoking.rango

The main character, a chameleon voiced by Johnny Depp, swallows a cigar at one point and breathes fire in the plot that revolves around a lawless outpost in the Wild West.

Should this movie be restricted to those 18 and older in Ontario because it shows tobacco products?

The Peterborough County-City Health Unit says yes — and endorses more restrictions on movies that depict any type of tobacco imagery including showing a pack of cigarettes on a table — because of studies showing that youth exposed to these movies are more likely to start smoking.

“We have to recognize the power of role models,” said health promoter Jane Hoffmeyer of the health unit.

“And research shows that movies are much more powerful than one might expect.”

The studies cited include those from the National Cancer Institute (The Role of the Media in Promoting and Reducing Tobacco Use 2008), World Health Organization (Smoke-Free Movies, from evidence to action 2009) and Physicians for Smoke-Free Canada (Tobacco Vector Report 2010).

The health board endorsed several recommendations, developed by the Ontario Coalition for Smoke-Free Movies, during Wednesday’s board meeting.

The coalition, which formed last year, sent a formal request to the board in February, Hoffmeyer said.

At least 12 other health units across the province have also endorsed the recommendations from the coalition, which formed last yea

The Peterborough County-City Health Unit endorsed:

n Making any new movie, in Ontario, with tobacco imagery rated R unless the smoking is clearly meant to show the dangers of tobacco use or if smoking is necessary to represent a real historical figure.

n Ensuring a producer verifies on-screen that no one involved in the movie production got kickbacks for using or displaying tobacco.

n Ensuring there are “strong” anti-smoking ads shown before any movie that has smoking in it, regardless of rating and distribution channel.

n Ensuring tobacco brands are not identified.

n Ensuring movies with tobacco imagery assigned a G, PG or 14A rating not be eligible for government film subsidies.

The Canadian Media Production Association could not be reached for comment.

Hoffmeyer said the board wants restrictions to apply to any tobacco product including cigars, cigarettes, spit-and-chew or an unopened pack of cigarettes.

The tobacco industry tries to use the movie industry to advertise its products, she said.

It would be important to have producers verify on-screen, such as by an interview or a written message, that nobody got kickbacks for using tobacco products.

“It’s to make things transparent,” she said.

If anti-smoking ads are shown before the movie, they need to be very “powerful,” Hoffmeyer said.

“We’re aiming to make it clear that it needs to be quality advertising and not tokenism,” she said.

Adding the local health board’s voice to this initiative is important, she said, to influence provincial and national policies on films.

It would be up to the Ontario Coalition for Smoke-Free Movies to take the issue to regulators, she said.

“But it helps for them to have a strong, unified voice behind them,” Hoffmeyer said.

The coalition could not be reached for comment.

NOTE: Members of the Ontario Coalition for Smoke-Free Movies include the Canadian Cancer Society Ontario Division, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario, Non-Smokers’ Rights Association/Smoking and Health Action Foundation, Ontario Lung Association, Ottawa Public Health expose, Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, Program Training and Consultation Centre Media Network and the Ontario Tobacco Control Area Networks.

Examiner Staff Writer

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