Hollywood Beats Lawsuit Over Smoking in G, PG and PG-13 Movies

Judge Richard Seeborg tossed suit claiming smoking in non-R-rated movies made kids addicted

Bill Murray St. Vincent watering plant smoking

U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg dismissed a lawsuit on Thursday filed by a California father who claimed that tobacco imagery in movies rated G, PG and PG-13 is a major cause of children becoming lifelong smokers.

Timothy Forsyth filed a lawsuit in California court in February alleging that the Motion Picture Association of America, several major studios and the National Association of Theater Owners have known since at least 2003 that showing smoking in films without R ratings “is one of the major causes of children becoming addicted to nicotine.”

Hollywood relied on free speech protections for its defense, which proved successful. In an order dismissing the suit under California’s anti-SLAPP statutes, intended to protect against frivolous lawsuits that chill free speech, Seeborg concluded that Forsyth’s suit was both an attempt to regulate constitutionally protected speech and regardless, would not have prevailed on its merits.

“CARA [the Classification and Rating Administration, established by the MPAA and NATO] holds First Amendment rights to express its opinions that are reflected in the ratings system,” Seeborg wrote. “Even focusing on the certification marks alone, that right precludes the basic relief Forsyth seeks in this action–forcing CARA to express different or additional opinions.”

Then, Seeborg rejected Forsyth’s claim that the agency placing PG-13 ratings on films showing smoking were guilty of intentional or careless misrepresentation.

“Forsyth insists that a rating less stringent than R is a representation that ‘the film is suitable for children under seventeen unaccompanied by a parent or guardian,’” Seeborg wrote. “The ratings plainly make no such representations. Rather, the PG and PG-13 ratings caution parents that material in such movies may be inappropriate for children. More fundamentally, the ratings reflect the consensus opinion of CARA board members. As such, neither intentional nor negligent misrepresentation claims are tenable as pleaded.”

Forsyth’s initial complaint alleged that, from 2003 through 2015, “youth-rated movies recruited approximately 4.6 million adolescents in the United States to smoke, of which approximately 1.5 million are expected to die from tobacco-induced diseases in years to come.”

Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.