The metaphor here is “When the rubber meets the road” — in this case meaning, what happens when the aspirational meets the pragmatic? Smoking used to be everywhere, but has gone underground, and now is seen almost nowhere. How did this happen? Through legislation with teeth. Can compulsive overeating be vanquished by the same kind of laws? Maybe, but not without a lot of protest.
Meanwhile, who would have guessed that either smoking or obesity could become so threatening to one’s livelihood? When employers and insurers get serious about limiting their health costs, the first thing they look at is curbing bad habits that cause medical consequences, and job security is a thing of the past.
Activists had good success in vanquishing smoking from hospitals, and it has encouraged those who see junk food as dangerous to try ridding hospitals, or at least children’s hospitals, of vending machines and branches of fast-food outlets.
The other area where anti-smoking coercion has really worked is in advertising, in certain venues and among certain age groups. But in movies, although brand-related smoking went down, the amount of smoking in movies went up. The only difference is now, cash-strapped filmmakers can’t make a few extra bucks by throwing a paid endorsement up on the screen.
Another smoking in films study
There are things the government cannot do by force, or would be unacceptably criticized for doing, but which can be accomplished through negotiation. After a 1989 agreement to end payments for the placement of tobacco brands in films, researchers watched 250 movies from both before and after, and published their observations in The Lancet:
Prevalence of brand appearance did not change overall in relation to the ban. However, there was a striking increase in the type of brand appearance depicted, with actor endorsement increasing from 1% of films before the ban to 11% after.
In other words, there were fewer brand appearances on film sets. Scenes included fewer billboards and store windows that contrived to show recognizable cigarette brand logos. But this reduction was compensated for by an increase in “actor endorsements,” or scenes in which an identifiable brand was smoked by an actor. For some reason, just cutting out the payment element did not accomplish much.
If talks comparable to those of 1989 were initiated to keep depictions of food out of movies, what exactly would be eliminated? Would there be no more family holiday meals on film? No scenes in restaurants or coffee shops? And wouldn’t the food industry just put a cold stop to any such idea by suggesting that first, before coming after them, the government should insist that all depictions of alcohol consumption should be expunged from movies? And maybe, since it is public safety that we purport to be concerned about, all cinematic violence should also be expunged.
That argument would surely lead to several years of litigation and the expenditure of millions of legal fee dollars, to be eventually recouped from the movie audiences. The notion of removing eating from movies, how exactly would that pan out? And would it ultimately do more good than harm?
Your responses and feedback are welcome!