I grew up in a household where my Dad smoked both in the house and outside. To me this was normal, it was part of my every day and it was socially acceptable. One day, my Dad took all three of us kids to the Doctor’s office. As he struggled to get my younger sister out of the car, he asked me to hold his cigarette while he pulled her out – be forgiving with this action, this was the 80s!! Not realizing what I was doing, I started to put the cigarette to my mouth and smoke, thinking how cool I looked and that I was just like Dad. It was the first and only time my Dad got mad at me! He smacked the cigarette out of my mouth, yelling at me about how bad smoking was for my health and that I was still a child. But to me, as a child, I had a hard time understanding: if it was so bad, why did the people who I loved and looked up to smoke? Wasn’t this normal? And it seemed odd coming from my Dad’s mouth that smoking was bad for me, but okay for him. The signals that I was receiving were confusing and contradictory.
Our behaviour is learned from watching others – we learn about norms, how to model correct (and incorrect) behaviour, and what is accepted socially, all from watching our family members, our peers, and those whom we admire and respect. Children and young adults are susceptible to these learnings and may have a harder time deciphering what is healthy and normal and what may be viewed as “cool” and “admirable” is actually unhealthy and detrimental to their health. As a parent, I have learned that it is my job to help guide them as they mature and begin to learn what is normal, what is right and how to make good decisions for their own health and well-being. For my youngest, this may mean restricting what he hears and sees, while for my eldest talking about the ‘why’s’ behind the decisions we are making.
Seeing a person smoking everyday or even casually in a movie or advertisement normalizes smoking. Our most vulnerable population, children and teens, see their idols and celebrities smoking, want to copy their behaviour, to be just like them. They don’t have the skills or the maturity to understand the consequences of smoking and starting so young. My husband started smoking when he was fourteen and struggled to quit at the age of 30 (he has now been smoke free for six years!). One of his greatest regrets, is that he had started so young.
Smoking in movies is now shockingly widespread; and some of the statistics surprised me! 86% of movies with smoking were rated for kids and teens in Ontario. That’s 37% of Ontario youth smokers begin to smoke due to seeing smoking in movies. Scary right? Even scarier is the fact that smoking has become so normal despite the high number of health campaigns showing the risks of smoking. I bet many of you like me, haven’t even noticed this happening during movies.
So how do parents help protect their children when movies aren’t rated to let us know that smoking is in the movie? Public Health Units across Ontario are encouraging parents to sign a petition that will influence movies to be rated as 18A if they feature tobacco at any point throughout the movie This small step helps us to wisely choose our movies for family time, as well as encouraging movie producers to just not include smoking at all in the film.
As parents, we know first-hand how quickly our children pick up habits (how many of you have said one bad word in the car and that’s it, they are like parrots repeating it everywhere) and we would do anything in our ability and power to protect them and keep them healthy. Signing the petition is one small, but positive step that we as parents can take to help ensure our children are not exposed to unhealthy life choices.
If you are curious about movies titles that may or do contain tobacco, visit the Smoke Free Movies page or the Thumbs Up Thumbs Down page for a complete listing of both tobacco free and tobacco containing movies. To keep up-to-date with all the latest information and status of the petition, make sure to follow them on Twitter and Facebook.
Disclosure: I have partnered with YMC and The Smoke-Free Movies Campaign and have received compensation for this post. All opinions in the post are my own.