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Hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation - The Impact of Smoking in Movies on Children

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


Federal News Service

HEADLINE: HEARING OF THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON COMMERCE, SCIENCE AND TRANSPORTATION

SUBJECT: THE IMPACT OF SMOKING IN MOVIES ON CHILDREN

CHAIRED BY: SENATOR JOHN ENSIGN (R-NV)

WITNESSES: JACK VALENTI, CHAIRMAN AND CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, MOTION PICTURE ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA; J. JOSEPH CURRAN, JR., ATTORNEY GENERAL OF MARYLAND. OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL; DR. MADELINE DALTON, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF PEDIATRICS, DARTMOUTH MEDICAL SCHOOL; LEVAR BURTON, CO-CHAIR, SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY TASK FORCE, DIRECTORS GUILD OF AMERICA; DR. STAN GLANTZ, PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SAN FRANCISCO, SCHOOL OF MEDICINE;

STEVEN YERRID, THE YERRID LAW FIRM, TAMPA FLORIDA

LOCATION: 253 RUSSELL SENATE OFFICE BUILDING, WASHINGTON, D.C.

TIME: 2:30 P.M.

BODY:
SEN. GEORGE ALLEN (R-VA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for recognizing me. This is an interesting topic for this committee. I know the chairman cares a great deal about it. Our good friend Senator Wyden talks about the Master Settlement Agreement having more holes in it than Swiss cheese. I think some of the statements-and I very much like Senator Wyden. He's a good ally on so many issues. Shoot, I think a lot of these concerns and assertions about the Master Settlement Agreement being violated by having cigarettes in movies is generally a lot of baloney rather than Swiss cheese.

And so, you know, you look at the testimony in here-and I've read it. I read through it last night, wonderful reading on this subject. LeVar Burton's statements are very probative of what the-let me get your exact title, the Directors Guild of America and what you're trying to do. Jack Valenti-even his words are eloquent and precise and principled. And so I think when you actually look at the facts, rather than some of the hype and some of the concerns, is that the creative folks in the motion picture industry are acting very responsibly. And when we get carried on about tobacco, recognizing we have tobacco leaves on the Capitol here and Thomas Jefferson said that tobacco needed to be on there because that was the first cash crop of this country, I suppose if Disney had had an accurate portrayal of Pocahontas rather than those waterfalls and all the rest, they would have had maybe people-gosh, American Indians smoking and that would have made that movie an "R" rated movie by some of the proposals in here.

But let's remember tobacco-look, there's people who oppose smoking and that's fine. People oppose tobacco, that's their right. But it is a legal product in this country, although it is very highly, highly taxed and highly regulated. I'm one-you all have heard me because Senator Ensign and Senator Wyden, we're normally together. I'm just one who doesn't like nanny government telling citizens how to live. I have three young children, a six-year-old, a 13-year-old and a 15-year-old and I don't care for them to be smoking either, but I don't need the federal government to tell me how to raise my children. My wife more than I-and I, though-can help out and are capable of this ourselves.

Heck, I watched TV with the kids the other night. They wanted to watch some MTV show called "Pimp My Car." (Laughter.) It was kind of interesting how they fixed up a Chevrolet love truck, or something like that. It was very interesting. And the point I made to my kids was, gosh, there was some guy had things somehow perforating through his lip and I was just saying, "Isn't that stupid?" I thought it was great the work they did on this truck, fixing it all up.

But nevertheless, as a parent you need to watch what your children are watching. And whether it's somebody smoking, whether it is somebody drinking, whether it's somebody putting spikes somehow through their lips, or a variety of different things, I think we ought to be responsible. Second, again, tobacco is a legal product. How far do we want to go in further regulating it? I think you already have in the Master Settlement Agreement a prohibition on placing tobacco products in movies. From all the evidence I've seen, that's being upheld. But do we want to stifle the creativity and freedom of expression in our movies?

Third, what's the next step in the attack on tobacco? Are we going to see smokers sue movie studios under some contrived tort liability theory for the effects of smoking? Someone will say, "Gosh, I saw John Wayne smoking. Oh, gosh, Humphrey Bogart was smoking. Clint Eastwood was smoking in a Dirty Harry movie or in the Outlaw Josey Wales he was chewing," so therefore you're going to sue Clint Eastwood, sue whoever made those movies. I think individuals need to be responsible. The "R" rating of it-and I know that's not your recommendation, Mr. Chairman-on it but making it an "R" rated movie because there's smoking in it doesn't make sense, as far as I'm concerned.

I'll be hard pressed to be convinced-will be hard pressed to be convinced that Congress has a role in passing laws restricting the creativity in our motion picture industry any more than if somebody is drinking-let's assume somebody is drinking in a movie, we're going to have some sort of mention of drinking. There is going to be for kids, especially teenage kids learning how to drive, what if they have a chase scene? Are we going to have to have something in there "Chase Scene" or "Fast Driving?"

The point is that one has-I think the ratings system that we have now is a good system. Maybe it can be tweaked and improved in some regards. But making a movie an "R" rated movie simply because somebody is smoking a cigarette to me is going overboard, and I do think ultimately one where I don't think the government ought to be stifling the creative genius of the motion picture industry.

And I'll close with what the Long Beach Press Telegram wrote last summer, quote, "Cigarettes might not belong in most films, but government meddling belongs in none of them."

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