Reply to Glantz and Polansky

Simon Chapman, Professor of Public Health,
November 15, 2011

NOT PEER REVIEWED Glantz & Polansky respectfully suggest that I should (1) "Base my criticisms on actual data and analysis, rather than raising hypothetical problems and presenting them as if they had been demonstrated to be real" and (2) "Criticise the proposal based on the actual behavior of the motion picture industry, not on whether or not youth see some R-rated films."

Suggestion 1 seems to be proposing that no one should ask questions about others' research but instead, keep silent until they complete their own studies. I will reflect on that advice next time I receive reviewers' comments on my research. However, in 17 years of editing, I don't believe I ever saw an author respond to a reviewer's criticisms by saying these would be ignored until the reviewer submitted their own research.

In fact, Matthew Farrelly who co-authored our PLoS Med paper[1] has done such research[2] - cited in our paper -- which demonstrated that smoking is inextricably intertwined with a range of other youth-enticing variables in movies [2]. As we wrote, smoking characters never just smoke, and movies showing smoking have a lot more in them that might appeal to youth at risk of smoking than just smoking. This is a core issue that has been ignored in all studies to date, other than Farrelly et al's.

Glantz and Polansky's main finding is that "movies with smoking make 87% of what comparably rated smoke-free films make". Consider why this might be the case. It is implausible that this could be explained by market forces whereby word would quickly spread around a nation "do not go to see movie X .. it contains smoking!" Rather, it is far more likely that movies where smoking occurs are from less popular genres: another illustration of how preoccupation with judging a movie by whether or not it contains smoking can obscure consideration of the totality of a movie's appeal, both in box-office potential and to youth at risk of smoking.

As to their second suggestion, it is indisputable that large proportions of young people often see adult-rated material. There are many studies showing this in the violence and sexual content areas, as well as in the tobacco field. My point is simply this: if the R-rating solution is designed to prevent youth seeing smoking, it may prevent them seeing it in cinemas, but it will not prevent them seeing the newly rated R movies elsewhere with consummate ease, increasingly so as download and i-View markets rapidly expand. This being the case, it surely cannot be long until proponents of R-rating realize that they will need to call for total movie censorship of smoking. If they are comfortable with that, is it time to be open about it?


1. Chapman S, Farrelly M. Four arguments against the adult-rating of movies with smoking scenes. PLoS Med 2011; e1001078. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001078 Published Aug 23 2011

2. Farrelly M, Kamyab K, Nonnemaker J, E. C (2011) Movie smoking and youth initiation: parsing smoking imagery and other adult content. Social Science Research Network. Social Science Research Network. Available:

Conflict of Interest:

None declared

Conflict of Interest

None declared