Fewer Cigarettes, More Alcohol in Youth-Rated Movies

By Perry, Susan | MinnPost.com, May 30, 2013 | Go to article overview

Fewer Cigarettes, More Alcohol in Youth-Rated Movies


Perry, Susan, MinnPost.com


Although cigarettes and other tobacco products are making fewer appearances in youth-rated movies than they were a decade or so ago, the same can't be said for alcohol.

In fact, there has been a significant increase in the appearance of alcohol products --particularly familiar brands of beer -- in youth-rated movies in recent years, according to a study published earlier this week in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

That's a worrisome trend. For other studies have not only shown that tobacco imagery in movies is associated with teen smoking, they have also linked children's exposure to on-screen use of alcohol with earlier, heavier and more abusive drinking.

And although it's good news that smoking and other uses of tobacco are appearing less frequently in popular movies than they were in the 1990s, that trend has recently shown signs of reversing.

A couple caveats

Yes, smoking and drinking is sometimes essential for a particular movie's plot or character development -- or to accurately depict a time period when people smoked and drank a lot. But all too often, the presence of these products in movies is gratuitous and driven by marketing rather than artistic purposes.

And, yes, it's also true that an association between two things - - in this case, exposure to alcohol and tobacco in movies and the early and heavy use of those products by children and adolescents -- is not the same as a proven cause-and-effect.

Still, this study is interesting because it suggests that letting companies self-regulate their marketing of harmful products to children doesn't work.

How the study was done

For the study, researchers at Dartmouth University's Geisel School of Medicine examined the 100 top-grossing movies for the years 1996 to 2009. Specially trained "coders" viewed the movies, recording the duration of each on-screen use of tobacco or alcohol and the presence and name of each product brand.

Of the 1,400 movies included in the study, 906 (64.7 percent) were rated for youth (G, PG, or PG-13), and 494 (35.3 percent) were rated for adults (R). The coders found 500 separate appearances of tobacco brands and 2,433 appearances of alcohol brands. Almost half (231) of the tobacco brands and almost two-thirds (1,528) of the alcohol brands appeared in the youth-rated movies.

The five most common tobacco brands were Marlboro, Camel, Kool, Winston and Newport. The five most common alcohol brands were all beers: Budweiser, Miller, Heineken, Coors and Corona.

Tobacco: on the decline

Over the 14 years covered in the study, placement of tobacco brands decreased about 7 percent each year between 2000 and 2006, at which point they remained steady at about 22 per year. …

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