We all love a good movie, whether young or young at heart, and eagerly anticipate the holiday season for its family-friendly blockbusters. Films can be a great family escape, educating and entertaining our children while fueling their dreams and imaginations. Without a doubt, media plays a vital role in shaping our youth. Unfortunately, smoking scenes that normalize tobacco still regularly occur in movies rated by the Motion Picture Association of America as suitable for children, despite significant evidence that the exposure can cause young people to start smoking.
My office is committed to contributing to a strong, healthy Brooklyn, where families and children have a safe place to grow and flourish. That includes free and socially responsible entertainment. For the past two years, I have hosted “A Summer Movies Under the Stars” in Prospect Park. Through a partnership with NYC Smoke-Free at Public Health Solutions, screened movies like Marvel’s “Captain America: The First Avenger” were vetted to ensure they were great family fun and free from tobacco imagery — because superheroes should be saving lives, not promoting products that kill 12,000 New Yorkers each year.
In Brooklyn alone, there are 5,000 public high school students that currently smoke cigarettes; one-third of whom will die prematurely as a direct result of these addictive sticks. While New York’s overall smoking rates have decreased thanks to comprehensive tobacco control efforts, significant disparities of higher smoking and secondhand smoke exposure rates continue to exist in communities of color and populations with limited income or education.
We all must do more as tobacco remains the number one cause of premature, preventable death for New Yorkers, and there’s a clear space where we can make an impact. Last year, the World Health Organization published a comprehensive report looking at the link between smoking on screen and adolescents getting hooked on tobacco. They, like the Surgeon General of the United States and the National Cancer Institute, reviewed empirical evidence and found a causal link. Why fight against what science and the Surgeon General are saying?
The solution is an “R” rating for all movies that contain tobacco imagery. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that giving an “R” rating to future movies with tobacco would be expected to reduce the number of teen smokers by nearly one in five and prevent one million deaths from smoking among children alive today.
Let’s make sure the movies we show our young people are not filled with marketing opportunities for Big Tobacco, and let’s be vocal about irresponsible youth-rated films that glamorize tobacco. November 17 marks the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout. As we work to get Brooklynites to quit smoking, let’s also fight to prevent our youth from starting at all.
Eric Adams is Brooklyn borough president