Scott Castle says anti-smoking advocates are being somewhat counterproductive:
It's usually the bad guys and their henchmen who smoke, because it helps the audience identify them as evil. Smoking is also routinely used to show the stressed mental state of a character, like Laura Linney in "The Savages". The proposed ratings rule doesn't discriminate between good guys and bad guys, or between glamorous or pathetic smokers, because the anti-smoking position is that any depiction of smoking, even a negative one, makes teenager more likely to smoke. [...]
It's not that the anti-smoking lobby doesn't have a valid point to make, especially regarding the MPAA's enforcement of their smoking policy. And their intentions are noble. The problem is their zero-tolerance approach, a policy that always leads to zero thinking--about the merits of individual films and the messages regarding smoking contained within them.
If this automatic R-rating for smoking gets implemented, why wouldn't anti-drug groups demand an automatic R-rating for drug scenes? What about teen or unprotected sex? New York City's anti-smoking mayor, Michael Bloomberg, went from banning smoking in bars and restaurants to banning trans-fats. With a growing child-obesity problem in America, why not ban scenes featuring fried chicken? Or at least run PSAs about the dangers of fatty foods prior to the offending film. Perhaps the answer is to simply excise all vice from films viewed by anyone under 17.
The MPAA should take smoking into account when rating films, in order to fulfil its mission to provide parents with a sense of what is suitable for their children. But automatically giving films with any hint of tobacco an R-rating puts the cart before the horse. Though it may help to further demonise the habit, it may end up making smoking seem more taboo, and therefore more cool to teenagers.