WASHINGTON – In 1976 Clint Eastwood chewed tobacco in the film “The Outlaw Josey Wales.” The 1998 World War II military hit “Saving Private Ryan” depicted soldiers smoking cigarettes
What has been viewed as a meaningless act by many moviegoers has ignited a debate on the use of tobacco products in motion pictures.
Witnesses told the Senate Committee on Commerce,Science and Transportation on Tuesday that smoking in motion pictures increases the use of tobacco products among youths. Representatives of the movie industry countered that the government has no place in Hollywood.
Sen. John Ensign,R-Nev.,who chaired the hearing,“The Impact of Smoking in the Movies on Children,” said the issue is what effect smoking in motion pictures has on children and whether it leads to an increase in smoking among youths. He said it does.
“Advertisers know what is seen affects a certain amount of people,” Ensign said.
Sen. Ron Wyden,D-Ore.,likened the issue to what is occurring in magazines.
“In magazines,there still is an effort to target teens,” Wyden said. “I'm afraid that it is carrying over to movies.”
Sen. George Allen,R-Va.,said the government has no place telling people how to live their lives and should not stifle the movies because of tobacco use. He reminded the committee that tobacco is a legal product in the United States and that parents should take responsibility for what their children are watching.
Jack Valenti,president of the Motion Picture Association of America,who said he personally opposes smoking in movies,agreed.
“I don't believe that what the director does should have any government intervention,” he said.
Valenti said that a movie is a narrative,and directors have the right to tell a story,even if that includes the use of tobacco.
He noted that a 2003 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Morbidity and Morality Weekly report revealed that the percent of middle and high school students using tobacco products declined from 34.5 percent in 2000 to 28.4 percent in 2002, and cigarette use declined from 28 percent to 22.9 percent over the same period.
Among those who favored changes was Maryland Attorney Gen. J. Joseph Curran Jr. He called for the movie industry to voluntarily eliminate tobacco from movies and at least to eliminate tobacco brands.
Curran also proposed that Hollywood consider smoking in the movie rating system and run public service announcements in movie theaters warning that certain movies include tobacco use.
“An R rating for smoking would cut the effect by 60 percent” said Dr. Stan Glantz,professor of medicine at the University of California,San Francisco. “It will prevent 200,000 kids from smoking.”
Valenti said that since the inception of the rating system in 1968 the three major issues for parents have been violence,sex and offensive language. Valenti said that if smoking were to be added to the list,it would open the door for a large number of other issues.
“I can't tell you how many people want to be included in the rating system,” Valenti said.
Wyden challenged the witnesses to do what they can to improve the industry for the protection and safety the country's youth.
“The ball is in your court,” Wyden said. “It's yours to seize it.”