The MPAA is under fire and facing a lawsuit over the depiction of characters smoking in movies rated G, PG and PG-13.
The organization, though, disagrees with a potential ban on such imagery, calling it an infringement of the first amendment. The MPAA argues that the current rating system is in place to alert parents of suitable and unsuitable imagery on-screen so that they can make educated decisions on what their children should see.
However, a group of plaintiffs disagree and believe that movie ratings don't fall under first amendment protection. They also suggest that there is a valid link between an uptick in smoking in teens and the movies they watch that depict characters smoking.
"The complaint raises no question of artistic freedom or of defendants' right to participate in public debate," the plaintiffs state, according to the Hollywood Reporter. "Instead this lawsuit deals with quotidian issues of false labeling and advertising. The complaint asserts that defendants cannot affix a PG-13 or lower certification on movies with tobacco imagery, because they know that it has been scientifically established that subjecting children to such imagery will result in the premature death of more than a million of them."
This lawsuit could have huge effects on the film industry: if the use of cigarettes on-screen get deemed as inappropriate, that opens up a huge can of worms that could go so far as to claim that the use of guns on-screen affects gun violence, that high-speed car chases cause real-world accidents and that drinking alcohol on-screen increases alcoholism.
Plaintiffs cited many recent movies as promoting smoking to teens, including Iron Man 3, Dumb and Dumber To and Transformers: Age of Extinction.
Last year, the University of California San Francisco developed a website that carefully studies the prevalence of smoking in PG-13 movies and suggested that giving those movies an "R" rating would prevent kids from lighting up.
The CDC has also long-suggested that on-screen smoking leads to teen smoking.
"The CDC reports that R-ratings on movies with smoking can prevent a million future tobacco deaths among American kids alone," Stanton Glantz, PhD, director of the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, said. "The media company chiefs could easily direct their trade group, the Motion Picture Association of America, to add smoking to the voluntary R-rating standard, alongside the non-lethal content it already rates R. The longer they delay, the more kids worldwide will be addicted to cigarettes by the smoking in the movies Hollywood makes and exports."