Antismokers alight on Hill

Senate taking a look at smoking in movies

WASHINGTON — The movie biz is under new pressure to kick the habit of showing film characters smoking.

The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday afternoon exploring the relationship between teens seeing people smoke on the bigscreen and deciding to light up themselves.

Motion Picture Assn. of America topper Jack Valenti will testify, along with LeVar Burton, co-chair for the Directors Guild of America’s social responsibility task force. Also on hand will be Dr. Madeline Dalton, associate professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School, and Dr. Stan Glantz, professor of medicine, UC San Francisco School of Medicine.

Dalton authored a study showing that smoking in movies entices young people to start. Glantz, one of Hollywood’s leading social critics, advocates R ratings for movies containing cigarette smoking.

The hearing, initiated by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), follows several recent meetings between antismoking advocates and entertainment industry execs since October.

Late last year, for instance, attorneys general from Connecticut, Utah and Vermont met in Los Angeles with production execs from the seven major studios urging a reduction in gratuitous onscreen smoking.

Dalton and the attorneys general also met with the DGA and, more recently, with the National Assn. of Theater Owners about running trailers encouraging kids to avoid lighting up.

“The directors took it very seriously — at least the ones who were there,” Dalton said. “It was clear they had done a lot of thinking about the issue.”

Smoke screening

Dalton also was encouraged by the response of theater owners, who she said were receptive and willing to consider the idea of running antismoking trailers.

Valenti helped facilitate the meetings after receiving a letter from 28 attorneys general expressing concern that smoking continues to be glamorized in film and TV, and that cigarette brand names continue to be shown despite a 1998 agreement that prohibits tobacco companies from paying to have their products in films.

While Valenti is eager to get the antismoking message out to member studios, the MPAA doesn’t advocate a position on smoking in films, preferring to leave that matter to individual filmmakers.

A study done at UC San Francisco of more than 775 movies released since 1999 found that nearly 80% of PG-13 films and 50% of G-rated and PG-rated movies depict smoking.