Hollywood beats lawsuit against smoking in family-friendly movies

The Motion Picture Association of America has emerged victorious from a lawsuit against representations of smoking in films rated PG and PG-13.

A class action had been launched against the MPAA over concerns that film representations of smoking encourage young viewers to take up the habit.

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Plaintiff Timothy Forsyth’s lawsuit argued, “In 2012 the surgeon general concluded that the scientific evidence established that exposure of children to tobacco imagery in films causes children to smoke.

“In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded based upon the scientific evidence that if defendants continued to assign the PG and PG-13 ratings to films with tobacco imagery the youth ratings would cause 3.2 million children to become addicted to nicotine and one million of those children would die prematurely from tobacco related diseases.”

As such, the lawsuit argued the MPAA’s official designations for the PG and PG-13, which state the films may contain some material unsuitable for the young, were “false and misleading,” arguing such content would “kill kids by the hundreds of thousands.”

The MPAA defended against these charges citing the first amendment’s protection of freedom of speech, and arguing their advisory ratings are not intended to “prescribe socially-appropriate values.”

It was also argued that conceding to such charges would open the door to films being rated R for depictions of “alcohol use, gambling, contact sports, bullying, consumption of soda or fatty foods, or high-speed driving.“

The Judge, quoted in The Hollywood Reporter, stated "Forsyth insists that a rating less stringent than R is a representation that ‘the film is suitable for children under seventeen unaccompanied by a parent or guardian.’ The ratings plainly make no such representations.

"Rather, the PG and PG-13 ratings caution parents that material in such movies may be inappropriate for children… As such, neither intentional nor negligent misrepresentation claims are tenable as pleaded.”

Forsyth, a father of two from California, took the action after seeing ‘The Hobbit’ films with his children, which featured smoking scenes.

Picture Credit: Warner Bros/MGM, Disney

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