Drop in Cigarette Use Mirrors Drop in Smoking in Movies

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Life has mirrored art when it comes to declines in cigarette smoking, according to a research study of Hollywood films since 1950. Patrick Jamieson and Dan Romer examined a sampling of the top 30 grossing U.S. movies each year from 1950 to 2006, 855 films in all, looking for tobacco-related content and main characters who smoked, and found fewer films over time that included this behavior.

The study examined not just actual smoking, but also “tobacco-related cues,” such as brand logos, smoke-filled rooms and ashtrays with lit cigarettes.
“Total tobacco-related content peaked around 1961, while the decline in portrayal of main character use was already underway in 1950,” reads the report. “Cigarette consumption peaked around 1966 with a trend that closely paralleled total tobacco content and that coincided with major tobacco control events,” including the 1964 U.S. Surgeon General’s report on the dangers of smoking and the banning of cigarette ads on television in 1971.
In 2007, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) announced that it would take portrayals of smoking outside of an historical context into account when creating ratings. However, a 2009 report, Two years later: Are MPAA’s tobacco labels protecting movie audiences?, discovered that not a single film had had its rating changed because of tobacco-related content.
-David Wallechinsky, Noel Brinkerhoff
Trends in U.S. Movie Tobacco Portrayal since 1950: An Historical Analysis (by Patrick E. Jamieson and Dan Romer, Annenberg Public Policy Center) (pdf)


Jono Polansky 12 years ago
The authors state that the incidence data they analyze is not sufficient to describe a causal relationship between kids' exposure to smoking on screen and their starting to smoke. However, after examining scores of other peer-reviewed studies on this issue, experimental and epidemiological, the National Cancer Institute in 2009 did indeed conclude that exposure causes kids to smoke. This should not come as a shock, since the tobacco companies, which are not known for making naive marketing decisions, have invested millions of dollars to promote cigarette smoking and brands on screen in at least six out of the last eight decades, according to their own documents. Other studies of the incidence of smoking on screen have found a decline in the 1960s and 1970s, as did these authors, but an increase in the 1980s and 1990s, when tobacco companies that had been thrown off TV in 1971 were systematically pursuing product placement in hundreds of mainstream studio films. This increase continued after the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between domestic tobacco companies and state attorneys general, despite the MSA's ban on paid tobacco product placement in entertainment accessible to kids. According to 2002-2008 data that monitored tobacco content in every film achieving top box office status each week in the "domestic" (US and Canada) film territory, content peaked in 2005 and has begun to decline in the face of aggressive pressure from medical groups, parent an youth organizations, AGs, and state, national and global public health authorities. As traditional tobacco advertising has been restricted in the US, and prohibited in other nations, the importance of tobacco imagery in films as a recruiter of new young smokers may only have grown. The studios have sometimes defended movie smoking in kid-rated movies as merely reflecting reality. But these movies are not documentaries: they are fantasies shaped, historically, by crass manipulations designed to push tobacco addiction. Uncoupling Hollywood from Big Tobacco could be the single simplest, cheapest, most powerful public health intervention of the last twenty years. To learn more, visit the University of California, San Francisco sponsored http://smokefreemovies.ucsf.edu.

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