Smoking on the Rise in Youth Movies

By Jennifer Warner
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 28, 2012 -- Onscreen tobacco use increased by 34% per movie last year in films targeted at children and teens, according to a new study.

Researchers say the dramatic rise in smoking scenes in top-grossing U.S. movies with a G, PG, or PG-13 rating ends five years of steady decline in onscreen tobacco use.

"The growth in onscreen tobacco use in 2011 reversed years of progress toward tobacco-free youth-rated movies," write researcher Stanton Glantz, PhD, of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues in Preventing Chronic Disease.

Studies have shown exposure to onscreen smoking encourages young people to start smoking. Reducing youth exposure to tobacco use in movies is a goal of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Smoking Surge in Youth Movies

In the study, researchers counted use or implied use of a tobacco product by actors in movies with a box office gross that ranked in the top 10 for at least one week in 2011.

The results showed the total instances of tobacco use, almost exclusively smoking, rose by 7% per movie from 2010 to 2011.

Tobacco incidents rose by 34% in movies rated G, PG, or PG-13, and by 7% in movies rated R.

The biggest increase in onscreen tobacco use was in movies aimed at the youngest audiences. The average number of tobacco incidents per movie rated G and PG rose by 311% in 2011, up from less than one smoking scene per movie to more than three.

No-Smoking Policy Backfires

Researchers say the increase in onscreen smoking means the motion picture industry is no longer progressing toward the goal of reducing onscreen tobacco use to curb youth smoking.

From 2005 to 2010, three major movie studios (Comcast/Universal, Disney, and Time Warner) had policies designed to discourage smoking in their movies. These efforts reduced average tobacco use per youth-rated movie by more than 90%.

But the study shows that those policies didn't hold up in 2011.

Studios with a smoking policy had an average of 7.6 more instances of tobacco use in their movies in 2011 compared with 2010. Studios without any smoking policy actually had 1.3 fewer examples of tobacco use in their movies in 2011.

Researchers say the results suggest a change in the movie rating system is needed to encourage movie studies to reduce tobacco use in movies and combat youth smoking.

"The reversal of progress toward less onscreen smoking in youth-rated movies underscores the need to rate movies with tobacco imagery as R, establishing an industry-wide market incentive to keep youth-marketed movies tobacco-free," the researchers write.

SOURCES:Glantz, S. Preventing Chronic Disease, September 2012.News release, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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