Parents for centuries have prevented their children from going to see a rated R movie because of the content that is shown. On November 14, 2016, a California federal judge tossed a proposed class action against Motion Picture Association of America Inc., six Hollywood studios and a theater trade group alleging that age restrictions for movie ratings mislead parents. In this class action, Timothy Forsyth sued seeking an injunction to require R ratings for films that depict smoking. Parent’s feel that on-screen smoking is not appropriate for children to see.
In an earlier hearing, Forsyth’s attorney cited “overwhelming” evidence that showed a causal link between films showing smoking and young people getting addicted to nicotine. Forsyth says the industry has resisted to give films that depict smoking in them an R rating, despite recommendations from the World Health Organization, American Medical Association, and 31 attorneys who wrote letters to the MPAA in 2007 seeking a ban on smoking in films accessible to children. Plaintiff states that there has been research that has shown that films depicting smoking has caused more than 1 million children, under 17, to become addicted to nicotine, leading to a potential 360,000 premature deaths.
Even though the plaintiff has provided extensive research on some of the negative outcomes that has come out of films allowing smoking to be in movies children can see, U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg dismissed the suit on November 10, 2016, finding that film ratings are considered expressions of free speech, protected from lawsuits under California’s anti-SLAPP statute. Seeborg states that guidelines for a PG-13 rating specifically states that “some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.” Seeborg found that specific statement shows there was not any intentional misrepresentation.
Ratings for each film are decided by the Classification and Rating Administration (CARA). CARA has publicly stated in 2007 that it would consider tobacco imagery when deciding what rating the movie should be, but it rejected a “wholesale mandatory R rating for all motion pictures that contain smoking.” Judge Seeborg has given the plaintiff until November 30, 2016 to amend their complaint to fix defects in their lawsuit.