California Lawsuit Seeks To Force Movie Studios To Give Films Showing Smoking An “R” Rating

gilda-movie-poster-1946-1020142589There 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.”

490px-James_Dean-cigarette-fullThat 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.

imagesIt 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

31 thoughts on “California Lawsuit Seeks To Force Movie Studios To Give Films Showing Smoking An “R” Rating”

  1. The photo is a good ad for the dumbness of smoking. Here she is dolling up to get the attention of the guys lining up at the cat house to choice their hooker and she fends some of them off with the stinky smoking routine.

    1. Elmer Fudd – it is well known that hookers do not kiss their clients.

  2. “We have for years prohibited commercials depicting the direct consumption of alcoholic beverages on TV

    So what?
    That doesn’t make banning the advertisement of legal products the right thing to do.
    More, it has had little demonstrable effect

    The median age of initiation of drinking alcohol has increased slightly from 13.65 years
    in 1991–1993 to 14.35 years in 2009–2011.
    That’s a change of a total of 8 months.

    Worse, overall rates of binge drinking among 12- to 20-year-olds increased between 1993 and 2001, from 12.1 to 18.6%, but trended down a bit after that.

    A waste of time for the US just to satisfy the inner fascist of social nannies..

  3. Seldom is Professor Turley so flat wrong. We have for years prohibited commercials depicting the direct consumption of alcoholic beverages on TV; Britain banned tobacco commercials for 20 years, although lately they have started again. We have just as much a right to know what kind of crap our children are being fed in the movie theater about smoking as we are about sex, and perhaps more so. Thousands die from smoking each year; from sex, not so much. My favorite blogger has missed the point. We should monitor our children’s texting; their social media pages, and their entertainment choices. I have a right to know if my loved ones are being exposed to the false appearance of glamour in films in which smoking is featured. Why else does Hollywood do so, other than to glamorize? Bet they don’t show someone slowly dying from COPD – no glamour in that. Rethink, Prof.

    1. LawyerChuck – I started smoking because my parents were and I admired them. However, the choice was mine.

  4. Rita Hayworth was great in Gilda. Why couldn’t she do zippers?

    How could he prove that those millions of people started smoking because, and only because, of those movies? How many had smokers for parents or friends? When I saw Gone In 60 Seconds, I did not go out and engage in grand theft auto..

    People have to start taking responsibility for themselves, and their kids. I recall reading how a journalist blamed Trump for her kid using the word “Loser” because he said it on TV. How about she turn the TV OFF if her kid is watching something inappropriate? What about all the other people who use the word “loser” that her kid will come in contact with, in real life or in movies? She has to actually parent to help her kid recognize right from wrong, because every time he opens a magazine, walks down a street, or watches a movie, he is going to see behavior that would shock the Brady Bunch.

    Realistically, they would have to give every single movie an R rating that portrayed anything unhealthy. This would also give Polar Express an R rating because the kid took a ride on a magic train with a stranger.

    What would be more effective would be public service messages, education, and role models like athletes and actors doing anti-smoking campaigns.

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