Friday, November 28, 2008

Movie smoking kills kids?

There are outfits in the States, proud members of the anti-smoker brigade, who want to “save the kids” by forcing movie makers to remove scenes of people smoking from movies.

According to one such group, smokefreemovies, “smoking harms children from the earliest years and U.S. films with smoking are a vector for addiction, disease and death worldwide.” Wow!

Imagine that! Just the image of someone lighting up will turn your child into a tobacco addicted, smoke belching fiend. Smoking, of course, will lead to an abnormal existence; spousal and child abuse; bludgeoning family and friends with secondhand smoke. They may well become criminals, refusing to pay extortion demanded by their government and buying tax-free, contraband tobacco.

And, naturally, they’ll all die of some smoking related disease or another - eventually. The fact that many more non-smokers die of smoking related diseases than smokers is immaterial. There’s no need to obscure the issue by pointing out that we are all destined to die - eventually.

And, is there any doubt that eliminating smoking in the movies will protect children? Not according to SmokeFreeMovies who tell us that “R-rating future smoking would avert 60,000 tobacco deaths a year in the U.S.” Uh-huh.

That’s a pretty impressive number. Imagine, 60,000 deaths “averted” just by eliminating pictures of people smoking. Can you believe it? Seriously?

Of course they have studies to prove it.

In 2003 a research group at Dartmouth Medical School recruited 2,603 adolescents (age 10-14) who had never tried smoking. After collecting detailed information about attitudes and other factors that predict smoking, they were tracked for 13-26 months to see who started smoking. They found that 10% of the kids started to smoke. And, “the more on screen smoking the kids saw, the more likely they were to have started to smoke.

But remember, there’s also a “scientific” study which shows that a parent smoking outside will still expose his children to harm because the secondhand smoke will follow him into the house, clinging tenaciously to his clothing and his breath. And, one which shows that kids exposed to even a whiff of secondhand smoke can suffer the same withdrawal symptoms as smokers?

At any rate, to protect the children, smokefreemovies (and the whole world, apparently) is demanding an “R” (Restricted) rating for any Hollywood film which shows someone smoking. Of course, the extremists are prepared to make exceptions; portrayals of actual historical figures who smoked, for example.

And, they won’t insist that smoking content be edited from movie classics like “Casablanca”, at least for now. They’ll get around to that once their campaign against smoking on TV is launched.

Of course, an “R” rating would likely cut the target audience of some films by as much as 50%. And, given the production costs of your average movie these days, could turn those films into money losing propositions. But then, there’s probably a study showing that banning smoking in the movies will have no financial impact on box office receipts. And, let’s not forget it would avert 60,000 deaths annually.

Dr. Simon Chapman, a professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney, wrote a commentary recently criticizing the proposal. He pointed out the inconsistency of an “R” for smoking, while allowing a movie like “What Happens in Vegas” (with Cameron Diaz) with scenes of “binge drinking, failure to wear seat belts, intoxication leading to possibly unprotected sex, gambling and a parody of spousal abuse."

He, in turn, was criticized by the anti-smoker establishment of which he is a part. So, Dr. Chapman responded to the criticism of his criticism. Follow me?

Says Dr. Chapman: “The reductio ad absurdum of arguments to prevent children seeing any smoking in movies would be to stop children seeing any smoking anywhere. By what magic process could the sight of smoking in film be influential while being benign in reality? Doubtless the time is not far away when someone wielding research will call for public smoking to be classified alongside indecent exposure as a felony.

I would not wish to be associated with such nonsense and believe many others share my concerns that momentum to selectively prune unacceptable health related behaviours from film, holds open the door for a conga line of other supplicants using the same reasoning. This should be resisted by all who value freedom of expression.

Unfortunately, despite his obvious credentials, Dr. Chapman’s reasoned arguments will fall on deaf ears. The anti-smoker crowd will continue to press to have smoking eradicated from movies, television and magazines. They’ll continue their efforts to hide tobacco products from the prying eyes of adolescents and adults alike, as they do in Canada.

They’ll continue to lobby politicians to impose smoking bans in parks, on sidewalks and on beaches so children will never see a real live smoker. In time, they may even push to have any reference to smoking removed from books, including the dictionary.

And, once smoking has been removed from the minds of the masses, smokers eradicated and death from smoking related diseases has become a thing of the past . . .

Reductio ad absurdum. What a wonderful expression. Disproof of a proposition by showing that it leads to absurd or untenable conclusions

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