Cigarettes, Teens and Movies
Images of glamorous women and rugged men smoking cigarettes have long been a movie staple. In the 1960s, after the U.S. surgeon general determined that smoking and death are related, movie makers began to tone down such images. Depictions of smoking declined from 10.7 per hour of film in 1950 to five in 1980-82, but were back up to 10.9 in 2002. Smoking in movies has now returned to 1950 levels, and health advocates link the change to increased smoking among teens. Such images have continued in blockbuster movies like “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” a PG-13 rated film that shows the character played by Hugh Jackman smoking.
In late May, to counter this kind of appeal to teens, the American Medical Association, together with the Los Angeles County health department, began a deterrence-based publicity campaign with the headline “Which Movie Studios Will Cause the Most Youth to Start Smoking This Summer?” Studies have shown that once smoking has begun, it is likely to continue if the smoker began before the age of 20. They have also alleged that half of new smoking by teens can be attributed to movie actors’ smoking.
Images of tobacco use in Hollywood movies, moreover, have global influence. U.S. films account for over 60 percent of box office receipts worldwide. A 2008 Australian study found that 70 percent of top box office films showed characters smoking. In the United Kingdom, where almost all forms of tobacco advertising are prohibited, blockbuster movies, with their smoking scenes, make billions. Holly-wood must do better at policing itself to stem this dangerous, youth-threatening trend.
Hoping to stem violent attacks on homeless people, attacks that perpetrators sometimes call “bum stomping,” Maryland has become the first state to categorize such assaults as hate crimes. In signing the legislation in early May, Governor Martin O’Malley added homeless persons to the list of protected categories under the state’s existing hate-crimes laws. These allow prosecutors to call for harsher penalties for those who attack people not just because of sexual orientation, race, religion or ethnicity, but now also because of their status as homeless persons. The law takes effect on Oct. 1.
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, attacks on homeless people have been increasing nationwide over the past decade. Perpetrators are mostly teenagers and young men. In one Florida case last year, a 15-year-old boy killed a homeless man by laying a log across his chest and jumping on it. The coalition reports that in another attack in Florida (incidents have been especially numerous in that state), a surveillance camera recorded one of several teens laughing as he beat a homeless man with a baseball bat. In New York City an assailant poured flammable liquid on a man sleeping on a piece of cardboard outside an East Harlem church. The victim died of his burns.
Maryland deserves credit for leading the way in identifying attacks on homeless people as hate crimes. California, Texas and Ohio are considering similar legislation. It cannot be enacted soon enough as a needed protection for an especially vulnerable class of human beings.
A Higher Righteousness
Over the course of his career, George Tiller, M.D., performed over 60,000 abortions, specializing in what are euphemistically called “late-term” abortions. His murder at Wichita’s Reformation Lutheran Church on Sunday, May 31, has sparked soul-searching among some pro-life advocates. Did incendiary speech against brazen abortionists contribute to an overheated environment that then led to the doctor’s murder? Was Scott Roeder, the unstable man who allegedly killed Tiller, egged on by “hate speech”? What moral responsibility do activists and church leaders bear to prevent moral and political criticism on both sides of the abortion divide from escalating into hate speech?
It is not hard to find examples of incendiary speech. Tiller’s critics were wont to step up to the line of incitement and then draw back. Bill O’Reilly regularly called the Kansas doctor “Tiller the baby killer” and devoted 29 segments of his Fox television show to vilifying him. “If I could get my hands on Tiller...” he threatened. “Well, you know. Can’t be vigilantes.... It doesn’t get worse. Does it get worse? No.” Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City is now best known for his proclamation to the Gospel of Life Convention in April: “We are at war!” Though the bishop went on to explain that the struggle is a spiritual one and the means nonviolent, he announced an apocalyptic struggle against evil “that may rival any in time past.”
Defenders of life must recall the warning of the Sermon on the Mount: “If a man calls his brother ‘Fool,’ he will answer for it...; and if he calls him ‘Renegade,’ he will answer for it in hell fire.” For the Gospel of Life to be good news, it must reflect a higher righteousness.