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Byline: Susan Abram, Staff Writer

Despite a decline in teenage smoking rates, a coalition of health groups has renewed a campaign to discourage Hollywood from making movies with characters who smoke.

Beginning today, a mobile billboard featuring a teenage girl asking, "Which movie studios will cause me to smoke this summer?" will be driven around the Los Angeles area.

Young people also will be encouraged to use social networking sites like Facebook to voice their opinions on films made by Paramount, Disney Pictures, Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Universal and Warner Bros.

The campaign was launched Wednesday by the American Medical Association Alliance, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and the California Youth Advocacy Network.

The coalition plans to keep a tally of tobacco-related images in this summer's movies, including "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," a PG-13 rated film that shows the character portrayed by Hugh Jackman smoking a cigar.

"I'm willing to bet not one child would have enjoyed that movie any less if he hadn't been smoking," said Sandra Frost, President of the 27,000-member AMA Alliance.

The group launched its Screen Out! campaign in 2006 to discourage smoking youth-rated films.

Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director for the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, said the Motion Picture Association of America should expand its ratings system to include smoking as a factor.

"I can't imagine a movie executive wanting their children to become nicotine addicts because of what they saw in their movies," Fielding said. "This is not new news to Hollywood, but I think they should step up.

"Let's be clear, any movie with smoking should be rated R. If the industry worries about (the rating), they should work to remove gratuitous smoking from movies."

Adult smoking rates in California have decreased 41 percent, from 22.7 percent in 1988 to 13.3 percent in 2008, according to the state's Department of Public Health. In 2008, the youth smoking rate declined to 14.6 percent, one of the lowest rates in the nation.

But health experts say smoking among black youths persists. And they say that the younger a person is when they start, the harder it is to quit.

MPAA spokeswoman Angela Martinez said smoking is already a consideration in the ratings system, and can result in a rating being changed from a G to PG or even to PG-13.

"The rating system has been around for 40 years, and there are several ways the raters make judgements," Martinez said. "Their main job is to rate a movie with all the information parents will want to see. Three out of four movies already rated R are often movies that have depictions of smoking. If a movie is rated G and there's smoking in that movie, it probably will up it to a PG."

Wolverine's descriptor reads: "Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, and some partial nudity."

Both Fielding and Martinez agreed showing smoking in films such as "Good Night and Good Luck," a biopic depicting the 1953 clash between Edward R. Murrow and Sen. Joseph McCarthy, is allowed because of its historical context. But Fielding also praised films such as "Star Trek" for its smoke-free purity.

Martinez also said the MPAA is a member of Hollywood Unfiltered, which educates the industry of all the health consequences of smoking, and last year, major motion picture studios announced that they would include anti-smoking public service announcements on youth-rated DVDs.





A mobile billboard featuring a teenage girl asking, "Which movie studios will cause me to smoke this summer?" will be driven around the L.A. area to warn teens about the dangers of smoking.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 28, 2009
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