On-Screen Smoking Down (But Still High)

To monitor the extent to which tobacco use is shown in popular movies, Thumbs Up! Thumbs Down! (TUTD), a project of Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails, counted the occurrences of tobacco use (termed “incidents”) shown in U.S. top-grossing movies during 1991-2009. This report summarizes the results of that study, which found that the number of tobacco incidents depicted in the movies during this period peaked in 2005 and then progressively declined. Top-grossing movies released in 2009 contained 49% of the number of onscreen smoking incidents as observed in 2005 (1,935 incidents in 2009 versus 3,967 incidents in 2005). Further reduction of tobacco use depicted in popular movies could lead to less initiation of smoking among adolescents.

That’s from a new Centers for Disease Control report. A finer/further point from the report:

The results of this analysis indicate that the number of tobacco incidents peaked in 2005, then declined by approximately half through 2009, representing the first time a decline of that duration and magnitude has been observed. However, nearly half of popular movies still contained tobacco imagery in 2009, including 54% of those rated PG-13, and the number of incidents remained higher in 2009 than in 1998. This analysis shows that the number of tobacco incidents increased steadily after the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) between the state attorneys general and the major cigarette companies, in which the companies agreed to end brand placement.


Filtered tobacco news.

On the other hand, on-screen killing is up.

Ed S.

I dont know what kind of cigarettes they are smoking if they are still high...

Spooner

"Further reduction of tobacco use depicted in popular movies could lead to less initiation of smoking among adolescents."

Right. And depiction of on screen murder always makes me want to go out and kill somebody.

Robin

Or you could talk to your children. A stretch I know.

Brett

as a former smoker who can barely watch Mad Men without cravings I can see the point.

also, isn't a movies rating now tied in some way to smoking also... maybe i'm just making that up

Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team

Rated R: CAUTION THIS FILM FEATURES SCENES OF EXTREME GRATUITOUS VIOLENCE, HARD CORE DRUG USE, GRAPHIC SEX, FRONTAL NUDITY AND SMOKING.

hilllie

The information is less irrelevant if it is not analyzed to distinguish between bad and good portrayal of the smokers.

SJ

Censorship by social consensus? Sounds worse than govt censorship.

Eric M. Jones

.
@6" Rated R: CAUTION THIS FILM FEATURES SCENES OF .........., GRAPHIC SEX, FRONTAL NUDITY AND SMOKING....- Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team"

The more graphic sex and frontal nudity, the less smoking. In fact dirty movies have virtually no smoking, drug use violence or drinking. You'd think you were in church except for the sex....oops, that's what they do in church.

cirby

The funny bit is how they don't seem to notice that, when compared to real life, there's very little smoking in movies - and when a character smokes in a movie, it's usually a blatant sign that they're either evil, or a good guy under extreme stress.

Caitlyn

I agree with hillie, above - I'd be very interested to see a comparison of the situations smoking is used in. I've seen several movies where lighting a cigarette is a sure sign that the character is a villain or an idiot or both

Jonathan Polansky

Well, this is your lucky day. There's an interesting study of good guy-bad-guy smoking right here:

Tanski S, Stoolmiller M, Dal Cin S, Worth K (2009) Movie character smoking and adolescent smoking: Who matters more, good guys or bad guys? Pediatrics 124:135-143.

For those of us without Medline access, the results were these: More good guys smoked than bad guys. Bad guys' smoking had a bit more influence on teens. So it was a 50-50 wash. In the end, it didn't matter who smoked. The cumulative exposure is what gets kids hooked.

Rigorously controlled studies involving thousands of teens in the US, Germany, Mexico, New Zealand, etc. have all found the same thing. The more smoking kids see on screen, the more likely they are to smoke. This confirms what the tobacco companies already know. They've invested millions in tobacco product placement (branded and unbranded) in mainstream Hollywood films.

If you'd like to go beyond this provocative Freakonomics column (and want to make up your own mind) then check out the published reports on smoking and movies - including the CDC report featured in this blog - at smokefreemovies.ucsf.edu/godeeper/the_science.

Read more...

Charlie

I would definitely like to see these smoking incidents broken down into good guy smoking, bad guy smoking, and neutral guy smoking. (where 'good guy' is a non-gender-specific denominator for a positively-portrayed character).

Conrad Sincliar

In response to Spooner's "Right. And depiction of on screen murder always makes me want to go out and kill somebody."

Do you disagree that if more people are partaking in a certain activity and it seems normal, then, especially in adolescences, they are more likely to themselves partake in activity such as smoking?

It is the whole band wagon scenario. If cool people in movies smoke, and an impressionable teenage wants to align himself with someone cool, then isn't he more likely to smoke?