Film Subsidies — Smokin'!

The state Legislature was busy patting itself on the back last week for its full-fledged assault on property rights, voting to ban smoking in privately owned properties such as restaurants and bars. How ironic that it would do so while actively subsidizing a film industry that encourages smoking.

Rep. Lee Gonzales, D-Flint Township, told The Flint Journal after the smoking ban passed, "It's a darn good day for Michigan citizens as we're protecting public health." That's debatable. The longest running study in the nation (1960-1998) on the effects of second-hand or "environmental" smoke finds almost no relationship between environmental smoke and health issues in non-smoking spouses.

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The study, published in the British Medical Journal, concluded that:

The results do not support a causal relation between environmental tobacco smoke and tobacco related mortality, although they do not rule out a small effect. The association between exposure to environmental tobacco smoke and coronary heart disease and lung cancer may be considerably weaker than generally believed.

What is not debatable is that legislators happily deprived private property owners of their right to use their property as they see fit. Many restaurants voluntarily banned smoking in their establishments long before the law was passed. Others have no qualms about allowing it. That means that birds of a smoking feather could flock together (or not) and non-smokers could do likewise. Voluntary association was the solution to this imaginary problem. If you don't like smoke, don't spend time with those who do. Pretty simple and peaceful, isn't it? Not for politicians.

What is neither simple nor peaceful is that Lansing's careerist political class is subsidizing the film industry to the tune of possibly $100 million or more each year. This in turn lowers the cost to produce films featuring smokers that make the habit look sexy. The Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California-San Francisco in November published a study on film subsidies and smoking titled Taxpayer Subsidies for US Films with Tobacco Imagery.

The study looked at the amount of "recent public subsidies for youth-rated (G/PG/PG-13) films with tobacco imagery" and found that many states, including Michigan, spend more money on film subsidies than anti-tobacco programs:

States awarded an estimated $830 million in public subsidies to films with tobacco, including $500 million to youth-rated films with tobacco. For comparison, the states budgeted $719 million for all tobacco control in 2009. More than half of states subsidizing films (22/41), including New York and California, spend or earmark more money for commercial film subsidies than for anti-tobacco programs. An estimated 60 percent ($830 million/$1.4 billion) of state film subsidies go to smoking films.

The report notes that Michigan was to shell out $48 million in film subsidies (refunds) to movie makers based on their 2008 spending in the state, but Michigan spent only $5.1 million in 2009 on "tobacco prevention spending."

This quandary, however, may have solved itself in Michigan now that the workplace smoking ban is in place. After all, isn't a film set... a "workplace?"