There is a curious class action lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco that seeks an order to force movie studios to use a minimum of an R rating for movies depicting the smoking of tobacco. The lawsuit filed by Timothy Forsyth and others strikes me as entirely meritless. The lawsuit cites various movies like The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug as warranting an R rating. Not all that gruesome decapitations and gouging mind you. It is the fact that characters like Gandalf smoke.
Indeed, as if to taunt anti-smokers Gandalf actually plays tricks with smoke:
The complaint argues that “From 2003 when the defendants were notified that exposure to tobacco imagery in films causes children and adolescents to smoke, through 2015, youth-rated movies recruited approximately 4.6 million adolescents in the United States to smoke, of which approximately 1.5 million are expected to die from tobacco-induced diseases in years to come. And, at current rates, if defendants continue their current practice of certifying and rating films with tobacco imagery as suitable and appropriate for children and adolescents under the age of seventeen unaccompanied by a parent or guardian, defendants’ conduct will cause an additional 3.2 million American children alive today to smoke, and one million of those children to die prematurely from tobacco-related diseases including lung cancer, heart disease, stroke and emphysema.”
That however does not mean that a studio can be ordered to treat smoking like full frontal nudity. Yet the filing by Jeffrey Keller at Keller Grover insists that a court should order an injunction and issue a declaratory judgment that the ratings system “is negligent, false and misleading and a breach of defendants’ fiduciary and statutory duties.” He also seeks damages for consumers who bought tickets to movies that were negligently rated, and disgorgement of gains from the alleged inaccurate ratings.
It is more likely that the litigants will get a Rule 11 sanction for a frivolous lawsuit than disgorgement of gains. The studios have artistic and free speech rights as well as commercial interests that should overwhelm these claims. Indeed, the implications of the lawsuit could produce a slippery slope as a host of things shown in films like the Hobbit are bad for you, including being dismembered, burned, tortured, and otherwise savagely treated (not to mention all of that red meat and alcohol consumed by the dwarfs). Indeed, every Western and gangster movie ever done would have to be treated as a R rating because of character smoking. The point is that the movie ratings are not vehicles for condemnation of unhealthy living choices, including products like tobacco which remain legal. There are a variety of things that teenagers may witness that are illegal for their age group from alcohol to sex to smoking. There may also be images of illegal drug use. To suggest that cigarettes must be deemed sufficient to trigger an increase to the R rating seems rather . . . well . . . meritless.
The suit was assigned on Monday to U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg.
Here is the complaint: Hollywood lawsuit