Editorial: Officials' push to reduce smoking images in streaming content goes too far

We have strongly supported efforts to discourage tobacco use among children and teens, including raising the age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21. And we oppose marketing tobacco products to young people.

But a move by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and other attorneys general has gone too far.

In a recent letter to Netflix, Amazon, the Walt Disney Co. and others, Raoul and 42 other attorneys general wrote they wanted to "open a dialogue" about shielding children from "tobacco imagery."

So far, so good. Such a discussion is always good. But the letter goes on to recommend that streaming services "eliminate or exclude tobacco imagery in all future original streamed content for young viewers." Further, the letter states, "content with tobacco imagery should be rated R or TV-MA and be recommended only to adult viewers." It also asks the services to only "recommend or designate tobacco-free content for children, adolescents, families, and general audiences."

Could the move lead to fewer smokers? Maybe, maybe not. But what its recommendations would clearly do is dilute the R rating and make it more confusing for parents trying to find appropriate viewing for their kids.

Do we really want a system where Groucho Marx's cigar pushes "Duck Soup" into the same rating category as "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre?"

The letter's suggestions scream of political correctness run amok - a tad ironic here in Illinois, where recreational pot is about to become legal.

Plus, they would discourage young film fans from seeing some of the best movies ever made. Here's looking at you, "Casablanca."

Consider how many family-friendly movies feature brief scenes of smoking, in part reflecting the prevalence in the eras in which they were made, and you begin to realize just how many films would be seen as unsuitable.

Musicals? Some would be fine. But not the much-beloved "The Sound of Music" - and certainly not "Grease."

Cartoons? "Pinocchio" and "Dumbo" have scenes with cigars, and "101 Dalmatians" has puppy-napping Cruella de Vil slinking about in a haze of smoke.

Comedies? Add "Back to the Future" and "Ghostbusters" to the naughty list.

Modern movies and TV shows, especially those geared toward children, have largely been more sensitive about smoking. That's a good thing.

But when smoking does occur in movies, that can open a door for parents to talk about the consequences, pointing out that clouds of smoke in films made or set years earlier reflect less enlightened times. They can also note that many of the silver screen's most famous smokers - including Humphrey Bogart and Dean Martin - died of smoking-related cancers.

Parents should regulate the shows and movies their children watch, paying attention to messages about everything from drugs to sex to violence. And if they sign up for a streaming service, they should do their homework regarding content and parental controls.

But for public officials to target content based on one vice is a slippery slope. And streaming services should not have to lump all movies featuring smoking into the same category: "101 Dalmatians" is no "Pulp Fiction."

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