Smoking Imagery Increasingly Prevalent in Movies, Report Finds

By Cowdrey, Leah | The Nation's Health, September 2006 | Go to article overview

Smoking Imagery Increasingly Prevalent in Movies, Report Finds


Cowdrey, Leah, The Nation's Health


Smoking in the movies has been rapidly increasing since the 1990s, particularly in youth-rated films, and continues to be a causal factor for children who begin using tobacco, according to a report released in July by the American Legacy Foundation.

The report, presented at the 13th World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Washington, D.C., found that from 1996 to 2004, tobacco was depicted in a majority of the U.S. live-action films, including more than 75 percent of the youth-rated films and nearly 90 percent of the R-rated films.

"These depictions actually kill people," said Cheryl Healton, MD, president and chief executive officer of the American Legacy Foundation, referencing the fact that smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States.

Thirty-eight percent of youth smoking initiation was directly traced to exposure to smoking in the movies, and children with the highest exposure to smoking in the movies were more than three times more likely than those with the least exposure to begin smoking, the report found.

More children were also exposed to tobacco depictions because the MotionPicture Association of America has recently "down-rated" many films for economic reasons, according to the report. The foundation found that in 1997, 50 percent of the top U.S. box office hits were youth-rated and contained 31 percent of tobacco use depictions for that year. But in 2004, nearly 75 percent of the top box office hits were youth-rated and contained 56 percent of smoking occurrences.

"Smoking in the movies is a hugely important problem in terms of tobacco control," said Stan Glantz, PhD, director of the Center for Tobacco Control, Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco, who led a news conference releasing the report.

The health experts involved in the report made four recommendations to reduce the impact of smoking in the movies on youth: give any film that shows tobacco products an R-rating; certify in the movie credits that no one involved with the film was compensated for displaying tobacco products; require strong anti-smoking public service announcements at the beginning of any film featuring tobacco products; and stop identifying tobacco brands in movie scenes.

"Teens are responsive to many outside influences, but sadly, many producers excuse themselves from their role in teen smoking," said Stephen Havas, MD, vice president of the American Medical Association.

According to Frances Stillman, EdD, EdM, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and chair of APHA's Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Section, the relationship between the film and tobacco industry is to blame for the increase of smoking in films, noting that "there are all sorts of deals behind the scenes. …

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