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18 and Over? Why Our Movie-Rating System Needs a Serious Overhaul


Graphic sex, violence, swearing, drug use…we don’t want our kids watching it, for obvious reasons.

Movie ratings—checking to see that a film is rated G for General Audience—is second nature for most moms. When kids enter their teenage years, things become slightly murkier—“PG” can be fine or a no-go depending on your kids’ age, maturity, sensitivities, and a million other factors, including your own comfort level—but it’s still all more or less straightforward. You’re either watching that or you’re not, kid.

I’ll admit without much embarrassment that I’ve never given much thought as to what the ratings-system actually means though. How does a movie tip the scale and become PG instead of G, or 18+ instead of PG? What if it deals with and discusses mature subject matter without explicitly showing anything on screen? And who decides what material is unsuitable for kids to be watching?

That last one is a stickler. Cultural norms mean that the acceptability of sexual content can vary widely. “Coarse language” is how coarse, exactly? It’s all up for debate, which begs the question: what content makes the grade as being unsuitable in the first place?

It’s a question that a lot of parents are asking themselves these days, in light of some new evidence that suggests we’re thinking about “dangerous content” in a dangerously narrow way.

I probably don’t need to tell you about the dangers of smoking. This is 2017, so you know that cigarette smoke is extraordinarily dangerous and the adverse effects it can have on your health cannot be overstated. We’re all also well aware that smoking is highly addictive. No one wants their kids to smoke.

And yet…

  • 37% of Ontario youth smokers are recruited to become smokers due to seeing smoking in the movies.
  • 185,000 children and teens in Ontario will start smoking because of their exposure to onscreen smoking.
  • 59,000 people, who were recruited to smoke by exposure to on-screen smoking, will die prematurely from smoking-rated diseases.

And in case you’re thinking that movies with tobacco use are probably getting those adult-only ratings, 86% of movies with tobacco were youth-rated in Ontario.

It might sound alarmist to say that smoking in movies causes kids to smoke. I promise it’s not. The evidence is overwhelming and frightening. A lot of research confirms it and knowing the consequences, it cannot be ignored.

Which is why we should act now to get a rating change in Ontario so that all new movies that contain tobacco use are given an 18A rating. By taking a stand we can make a difference in the images our kids see on screen and hopefully will reduce the number of kids who start smoking.

Take action. It’s as simple as sending your MPP an email. If enough of us do it, they cannot ignore us. The Ontario Coalition for Smoke-Free movies has made the process effortless. Write your message, sign your name, and then enter your postal code and their automated system will email the correct MPP for your region. They have even drafted a sample letter you can use, if you wish, so that all you need to do is sign your name.

Smokefreemovies.ca has a roster of other easy ways you can take action as well. In addition to signing the e-petition and emailing your MPP, you can also email the Ontario Film Authority (OFRB) directly and send them an official request. They are the body in charge of rating movies. If you like to keep it real with pen and paper, you can send them some snail mail. And social media works wonders in these situations—there’s nothing like putting the heat on someone publicly to get a response. Spread the word on Facebook and Twitter (use #smokefreemovies) and rally your friends and family.

This is a very real problem with a very clear solution. Take action. Spread the word. Together we can end smoking scenes in youth-rated movies.


This post is brought to you by the Region of Peel and is part of an ON-wide Smoke-Free Movies initiative among public health units, but the opinions are our own.


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