This posting is Rated R

Last week the New York State Department of Health ramped up its campaign to equate smoking in films with an R rating, taking out full-page ads in every major state newspaper containing pre-written clip-and-mail letters to major studio executives.

I decided to make this the basis of a dinnertime civic discussion with my 10-year old son, an easier topic than why our governor had to resign. To my surprise, rather than weigh the idea he just laughed. “Does that mean Looney Tunes will be rated R?” he asked. That depends: if they are imitating other Hollywood actors, then no, because exceptions to the R rating may be granted if smoking is necessary to “accurately depict a historical figure”.

“Does that mean I can’t play outside?” Since we live close to a hospital that has banned smoking, scenes like the one depicted here can be seen around the clock, with the aid of binoculars. But exceptions to the R rating are permissible if smoking is depicted in an unambiguously negative light, and I think the permanent huddle outside the hospital would qualify.

I support smoking bans in hotels and restaurants because it is a clear-cut workplace safety issue. Smoking in films is a workplace safety issue, too, and sooner or later studios are going to be made to stop smoking on the set and start faking it. But banning the depiction of smoking to those under age 17 hearkens to the Hays Code.

Note of caution to the dwindling number of you who still buy newspapers: Today’s Doonesbury includes a depiction of the Easter Bunny holding a lit cigarette.

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