Trina Kleist
Staff Writer

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November 29, 2011
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Rated R: Campaign vs, smoking in movies opens Friday in Grass Valley


Wolverine chomps a cigar when in his human form in the movie "X-Men."

Singer Lady Gaga puffs in her music videos.

And veteran actress Sigourney Weaver returns from planet Pandora in the blockbuster "Avatar" screeching, "Where are my cigarettes??!!"

On Friday, Nevada County youth will have the chance to stomp and cat-call in the midst of a darkened theater, sending a message that depictions of celebrities with cigs don't belong in media for a general audience.

The free event, "Stomp Out Tobacco in Movies," features a showing of "Home Alone" at 3 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2, at the Del Oro Theatre, 163 Mill St., downtown Grass Valley. (For a coupon for free admission, open the dog-eared-page icon at the upper left.)

Movies directed at children and youth, and which also depict tobacco products, range from scenes as startling as Weaver's in "Avatar" to those as contextual as hobbits with pipes in "Lord of the Rings" and a caterpillar with a hookah in the latest "Alice in Wonderland." Even "Home Alone" has a character who smokes while he hatches his plot.

They all are coming under the scrutiny of local health officials and youth advocates, who say they contribute to a sense a among the young that it's cool to smoke.

Recent research shows the brain's region for logical thinking doesn't fully develop in males until they are about 27, and in females until about 21.

That means young people who see actors puffing "don't decipher that that's not really what people do in real life," said Nevada County Tobacco Use Prevention Project Director Felicia Sobonya.

Youth Opposing the Use of Tobacco for Health Coalition and Coalition for a Drug Free Nevada County are cosponsoring Friday's event in the hope awareness will prevent local youth from dying due to smoking-related ills.

Across the nation, an estimated 390,000 teenagers start smoking every year, influenced by scenes of smoking in movies; one-third of them can expect to die from smoking-related causes, according to county Public Health.

In 2007, a campaign was started to require an R rating for movies that depict tobacco products; movie-goers must be 18 to get into R films.

The rating and other steps to warn viewers about the harm of tobacco products is endorsed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Medical Association and other national medical associations.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services set out to reduce tobacco by "reducing youth exposure to onscreen smoking," the CDC reported.

Three film companies have drastically reduced smoking in their movies aimed at children and teens, thanks in part to their policies to reduce on-screen tobacco use, according to an overview of studies released by the CDC in July.

Over the past five years, scenes involving tobacco dropped from an average of 23 to one per film for those companies, researchers found. Most of their youth movies had no smoking at all, the Associated Press reported. Those companies are Time Warner (Warner Bros.); Comcast (Universal and Focus Features); and Walt Disney Company (Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone, Pixar and Buena Vista.)

But at movie makers without such policies, the decline was less - from an average of 18 to 10 incidents per film, the AP reported. Those companies include News Corp. (20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight); Sony (Sony Pictures and Columbia Pictures); and Viacom (Paramount Pictures, MTV Films and Marvel).

Tobacco use on the silver screen peaked in 2005 and has been on the decline since, according to the CDC research. Last year, about 45 percent of top-grossing movies had tobacco scenes, compared to 67 percent in 2005.

A spokeswoman for the Motion Picture Association of America had not seen the study, but told the AP that all of its members have taken steps to diminish smoking on screen. Since 2007, all had put anti-smoking messages on movie DVDs, and smoking has been a factor in the rating of films.

"Everyone agrees it's a problem that the industry should not be encouraging or glamorizing," MPA spokeswoman Elizabeth Kaltman told the AP.

But they have not put anti-smoking messages on films seen in theaters, according to anti-smoking advocate SmokeFreeMovies, based in San Francisco.

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To contact Senior Staff Writer Trina Kleist, e-mail tkleist@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4230.


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The Union Updated Nov 29, 2011 02:43PM Published Nov 29, 2011 12:48PM Copyright 2011 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.